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Scientists discover stinging truths about jellyfish blooms in the Bering Sea
Date:5/29/2008

ea's jellyfish population peaked in 2000, and then eventually stabilized at moderate levels between those of the bloom years of the 1990s and the less populated years of the 1980s. The post-2000 population decreases occurred while water temperatures dramatically increased--even though increasing temperatures have been associated with increasing jellyfish numbers in lab studies and in other waters, such as Narragansett Bay.

What is causing this apparent incongruity in the Bering Sea? "We think that once the Bering Sea's jellyfish population outsized the available food supply, the jellyfish population probably shrunk," says Ciannelli.

A Squishy Scourge

The most common jellyfish in the Bering Sea is the sea nettle, which has tentacles up to six meters long. Sea nettles and other jellyfish damage the fishing industry by: 1) gumming up fishing nets, 2) stinging captured young fish, which spoils their commercial value, and 3) consuming young fish, which may reduce the sizes of commercial catches.

Do More Blooms Loom?

"There are still too many mysteries about Bering Sea jellyfish to predict their next moves," says Ciannelli. These mysteries include whether food for jellyfish is being increased by the fishing industry's removal of jellyfish competitors that eat the same food that jellyfish eat.

In addition, "the Bering Sea's current jellyfish population is still much bigger and ranges further than it did during the 1980s," observes Ciannelli. "This finding suggests that water temperatures influence jellyfish populations. But we don't know how and how much."

Desparately Seeking Polyps

Scientists suspect that increasing water temperatures may influence jellyfish population in various ways. For example, they may:

  • Impact the food supplies of jellyfish.

  • Prolong an early developmental stage for jellyfish during which they live as tiny, bottom-dwelling polyps b
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Contact: Lily Whiteman
lwhitema@nsf.gov
703-292-8310
National Science Foundation
Source:Eurekalert  

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