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What You Need to Know About the Coming Jellyfish Apocalypse

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The influx of jellyfish can cause big problems. In October last year, a gelatinous swarm plugged cooling pipes for one of the world's largest nuclear reactors, on the Baltic coast in Sweden, shutting it down. A swarm hobbled a coal-fired power plant near Hadera on the Israeli coast in 2011. Millions of bulging, translucent creatures descended on popular Mediterranean beaches in April 2013, freaking out the tourists. Jellyfish expert Lisa-ann Gershwinwrites in her 2013 book Stung! that jellyfish caused the collapse of the $350 million Black Sea fishing industry in the 1990s. In 2007, a plague wiped out a salmon farm off Northern Ireland.

Okay, I'm scared. 

While jellyfish appear to be really loving global warming, they could also be driving  the change, writes Australian scientist Tim Flannery: "Remarkably, jellyfish may have the capacity to accelerate climate change," he writes. "Jellyfish release carbon-rich feces and mucus (poo and goo) that bacteria prefer to use for respiration," turning the bacteria into carbon-making factories, accelerating warming. A gelatinous feedback loop.

But scientists are split over the whether global warming is a dominant factor, and are desperate for more comprehensive datasets to fully understand the dynamic. There's even an interactive website and smart phone apps developed by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute to encourage citizen scientists to submit their own sightings to help with a global tracking effort.


Combine this with the fact that some jellyfish are immortal. 

They've just been watching and waiting, haven't they?

Band name: The Immortal Jellyfish (hey, or ImMORAL Jellyfish!)

The most dangerous species of jellyfish—Chironex fleckeri and Irukandji—are found in the waters around Australia and the Philippines. It only takes three minutes for a sting from Chironex fleckeri, a species of box jellyfish, to kill you, with a tentacle laced with some of the world's deadliest poison. Box jellyfish are outfitted with superior wits and senses to their jellyfish brethren, writes Flannery. For one, they can see: "They are also the only jellyfish with eyes that are quite sophisticated, with retinas and corneas... And they have brains, which are capable of learning, memory, and guiding complex behaviors." (Shudder.) A single brush of the Irukandji jellyfish—in the box jellyfish family—can cause searing pain and cramps, inducing nausea and vomiting which can continue for 12 hours, and more insidiously, an existential dread: Victims are "gripped with a sense of 'impending doom'."


In Edge of Tomorrow the enemy Tom Cruise fights resemble jellyfish!

Coincidence? I think not!!

How many people die every year from jellyfish stings?

We don't know, because deaths can so easily be attributed to other causes, like drowning. But readers filled with terror about sharks chomping down on your leg while you swim should put this in perspective: the death toll from jellyfish is definitely more than from sharks. Sharks kill about eight to 10 people a year. Jellyfish kill at least 50, according to Brotz.

If you get stung, what should you do?

I'm sorry to say, despite everything you've heard, peeing on a sting is not going to help. We'll get to that in a moment. But first, here's what's going on when a jellyfish stings you.

A jellyfish has "thousands or millions" of these really fascinating little cells with their own venom sacs that operate "almost like a hypodermic syringe," says Brotz. "If you come in contact with them, each cell has it's own little trigger hair. Once the trigger hair gets fired, basically this little harpoon will shoot out of the cell."

"The more tentacle you come in contact with, the more of these cells, these nematocysts, the more severe the sting is going to be. Even when a tentacle breaks off from a jellyfish these nematocysts are still active."

Here's what to do, and what not to do, according to Brotz:

  1. If you find a jellyfish dead and washed up on the beach, don't touch it because it could still sting you.
  2. Even if you've been stung already, you might still have bits of "unfired nematocysts" stuck to you. Don't rub them; they might sting you further.
  3. Try to pick off any little bits of tentacle that are stuck to you, but avoid using your fingers. Again: they can still release venom. Brotz suggests a pair of tweezers, or even a stick.
  4. "After that it's best to rinse it with sea water," says Brotz. "You don't really want to use freshwater because that can also chemically cause the nematocysts to fire."
  5. That advice about seawater goes for urine, too.
  6. Vinegar, an acetic acid, has been used for years to prevent box jellyfish stingers from firing. But this remedy has been called into question with new research in Australia that says it could actually increase the venom load in the victim by 50 percent.

I'm so glad that urine advice is bad. 

Have you seen the Will Smith movie 7 Pounds?

No.  Why don't you paste the relevant gif here?

Not really gif-able. He dies in the movie due to jellyfish sting, which was strangely memorable.

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