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Home / Science / A Man O 'War' Epidemic 'Is Sweeping Australian Beaches, And It Will Not Be The Last

A Man O 'War' Epidemic 'Is Sweeping Australian Beaches, And It Will Not Be The Last



Bluebottle jellyfish on Australian beach.
Photo: Andrea Schaffer (Flickr)

Jellyfish and their relatives are taking over, man. Over the weekend, things got real weird off the coast of Queensland, Australia, where more than 2,600 people received treatment for stings from bluebottles, so it was known as the Indo-Pacific Portuguese man o '. These colonial critters have produced 13,000 stings in the past week, reports the BBC.

Describing it as an "epidemic," experts told the BBC powerful winds and heat brought critters to shore. Which checks out, seeing as Australia has been dealing with some record-breaking heat lately. "What's the child of the $ 64,000 question," Paul Bologna, a biology professor at Montclair State University, who studies jellies, told Earther.

Bluebottles are a type of colonial siphonophore. They're not jellyfish but fall within the same broader lineage. We do not know a sound about that lineage, including true jellyfish, as scientists are still answering basic questions about their reproductive cycles and historical abundances. But one thing we do know is jellies thrive in low-oxygen conditions. Unfortunately, these conditions are becoming more prevalent as we spew the gases that warm the planet and, in turn, the oceans, because warm water holds less oxygen. So we pollute the shit out of our waterways with fertilizer, which can reduce even further.

"That's kind of the $ 64,000 question."

All of this makes life easier for jellies. And humans can give these critters a boost in other ways too, including through our infrastructure. From oil rigs to offshore wind turbines, colonies of jelly young, called polyps, can thrive here.

"All this is a platform for the jellyfish," Bologna told Earther.

Outbreaks or blooms of jellies are not not just bad for beachgoers and the local tourism industry that relies on them for butcheries that jellyfish and their relative can deplete by eating fish eggs, larvae, and the fish need to survive. This is true across hatcheries outside of fisheries, too. And these impacts can trickle beyond the local ecosystem, Bologna said.

Climate change may exacerbate this, but only time will tell. Until then, maybe we can learn to eat the abundance of jellies we're already seeing.


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