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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Philosophy and Jellyfish

Jellyfish have a subtle way of pushing your mind to the philosophical. Maybe it’s because they are hard to understand and lack of understanding easily morphs into abstraction. One night this month, Keith was out at an evening meeting, so I threw food on the dinner table, mac and cheese, olives (my kids love olives), grapes–stuff that’s fast and with a low complaint-to-acceptance ratio. I sat down to eat with them, while recordings of my conversation with an Italian jellyfish scientist named Fernando Boero reverberated in my head. I’d been wrestling with his philosophy all week. I put a conjecture to my kids, as Boero did to me. ”Suppose I tell you that all jellyfish are clear. Then you go to the beach and find 50 clear jellyfish. Can you say that my statement is true?” “No,” Isy says, surprising me a little because she usually has little tolerance for my brain games. […]

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Who’s Been Naughty?

Last week, the mauve stinger, Pelagia noctiluca, which has terrorized beaches in the Mediterranean for years, swarmed into a salmon farm, Loch Duart, off the Scottish coast. The berry-sized jellies slipped through the nets that hold the salmon and lodged themselves in the gills of the fish. Loch Duart is located on one of the oldest aquaculture sites in Scotland, and it’s committed to sustainable farming. It has nine sites, but only farms six at a time. The other three remain fallow, a practice also encouraged by sustainable land-based farming. On land, fallowing gives the environment a chance to return to its natural condition, and in the sea it does too. Importantly, fallowing in the ocean cuts down on the populations of sea lice that infest salmon kept together in pens. These parasites latch on to the skin of the fish, opening them up to infection. Hoping to keep sea lice levels […]

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