Jet-Set Jelly Blooms

Summer is a time when jellyfish party, and this year is no exception. For the last few months, all around the northern hemisphere, it’s been a jelly bash. Starting in the Pacific, here’s a globe-trotting tour of what’s been happening beneath the waves. In early summer, I wrote about the vast regattas of by-the-wind sailor (Velella velella) surfing down the west coast of the the U.S. Recently, another gelatinous animal, the crystal jelly (Aqueora victoria), famous for its display of blue luminescence has been lighting up Oregon beaches. Jaws is back in theaters and great white sitings are in the rise on the Atlantic coast, but jellies have been striking fear in the hearts of East Coast swimmers too. The warm Gulf Stream delivered a puff of stunning –both visually and in its sting — Portuguese man-o-wars to mid-Atlantic beaches this summer. A little farther north, the shallows of Cape […]

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Horsemint by Any Other Name

Near my house is a piece of land that has been long forgotten by most of Austin. It’s an oasis hidden behind a row of ugly rectangular government buildings that intimidate trespassers. People with dogs that like to run off leash whisper its location to one another. That’s how I found out about it. The space is roughly a rectangle about 75 acres in size. People and dogs have worn a loop around the outer perimeter that passes through a field on one side and ancient stands of pecan and live oak trees on the other. Sometimes feral monk parakeets squawk in their branches. A trail bisects the loop, and if you push on towards the creek at the end of that path, you can find a clearing in the overgrown forest. Someone has built a tree house in one of the massive oaks, boards nailed […]

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By-the-wind Sailor

Since April, hordes of bright blue jellies have been stranding themselves on the Pacific coast. Reports from Oregon and Washington started washing in mid-April with numbers of jellies in the thousands. They swept down the coast to northern California where reported abundances reached millions. When the jellies surfed into southern California in early May, news stories claimed billions of cookie-sized azure animals carpeted the shoreline. Not just beaches, but coastal waters have been inundated. The Columbia River sector of the Coast Guard has responded to nine potential oil spills that turned out to be floating armadas of indigo jellies. The species of jelly blanketing the Pacific coast goes by a number of names, all equally poetic. The Latin name of this animal is the melodic Velella velella, which means “little sail,” and that’s one of the common names of the creature too. But it also goes by purple sail […]

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Carbon Correction

“Make sure you dig twice as wide as the pot.” The words of John, the garden store guy, who had given me a fast-paced education on planting fruit trees an hour earlier, echoed in my head. I dug my shovel into the rocky dirt in the back corner of my yard. I’d been scoping out this neglected spot for a year, happy with the thought that a tree would eventually make it’s weeds into a more graceful space. A year ago, I wrote one of my first blogs about my grandmother, who had just passed away at the age of 102. In that blog, I calculated her carbon footprint and my own, and figured I would have to plant 125 trees to offset the difference.  I vowed to start with a cherry tree to honor the anniversary of her passing, but after doing a bit of research, I discovered cherry trees don’t […]

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Jellies in the Jungle

I often try to imagine the open ocean world of the jellies, a place where the physical barriers are completely different than on land. Like floating in space, life in the ocean is a three-dimensional and any direction can be navigated with ease. Being free from the constraints of a surface means you aren’t required to follow the contours of hills or valleys or bends in the road. There aren’t any structures like houses or trees to hide behind, branches to block your view, no walls to obscure you. This is why when we put something in the open ocean, like a buoy or a mooring, it collects organisms. Physical bodies naturally recognize another physical body in a surfaceless space, and the surface acts like a magnet attracting life. Many hyperiid amphipods colored both white and orange in a common Mediterranean jellyfish. The purple is the jelly’s reproductive system. From Sonke Johnsen. In the vast […]

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And the Award Goes To…

No jellyfish took home any accolades from the Academy of Motion Pictures last week (though a movie feature of Spineless would no doubt rock the box offices.) Nonetheless, recently a couple species of jellies have been officially bestowed some sweet superlatives. Last month, Craig McLean, a scientist at the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center in Durham, North Carolina ended the debate, once and for all,  over the biggest ‘fish’ in the sea. (Actually, there’s still some question, keep reading.) McClean had noticed that reports of sea creatures often suffer from the same sort of exaggerations fishermen make about the one that got away. As an example, giant squid are widely reported to reach 60 feet, while documented measurements come in closer to 40 feet. To me, this sounds like a conversation that got spun up over a few beers. But regardless of how it started, McClean and his colleagues set out to determine just how bad the fish […]

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