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The backstory of the venomous clinging jellyfish

Between May and October each year the Barnegat Bay Partnership (on the heels of their State of the Bay Report release), samples with a 50-foot seine net at numerous parts of Barnegat Bay looking for juvenile fish. Officials have come across a variety of estuarine fish since 2012, but among them four are jellyfish species of which certain types have a potent and harmful sting. 

Clinging jellyfish   (N.J. Department of Environmental Protection)
Clinging jellyfish (N.J. Department of Environmental Protection)

“The gear that we use does collect jellyfish,” said Stan Hales, Director of the Barnegat Bay Partnership. “So we just wanted to be very cautious.”

Their described as ‘dime-sized’ jellyfish and concern over where they are, and what they do continues to mount across the Jersey Shore.

While this particular clinging jellyfish is small in size, it’s potency via the sting or bite could have a major impact on your body.

However it remains ever so curious on how something so small could have such an impactful effect on human neurons and the body as a whole.

“This animal eats zooplankton, and it is small and is eating things that may be smaller than itself,” said Hales. “It has to immobilize them very quickly, so that’s the benefit in having these kinds of protections. They can immobilize their prey very quickly.”

Tidal flow may influence a number of marine life not solely in Barnegat Bay, but in a number of waterways in New Jersey.

Hales adds the familiarity this jellyfish has with our region dates back a number of years.

“This animal has been in the northern Atlantic for a long time,” said Hales. “Historically this species hasn’t been venomous. The form in the Atlantic basically was never reported to sting anybody, but the pacific form has always been reported to have a potent venom.”

He explains that between the 1960’s and 1990’s, the very venomous jellyfish was apparently encountered by a number of coastal researchers in Massachusetts, and in the decades following these jellyfish have arrived in other northeastern states.

Most of the research into this species of jellyfish is still developing, but Hales believes there is more that needs to be looked at.

The one thing we do know for certain is the potency of the clinging jellyfish’s venomous sting.

“As coastal waters warm (in) the summer…given the fact that it does appear to be sort of expanding it’s range,” adds Hales. “Everybody does need to be cautious because it is so tiny and so hard to find.”

As you head to the beaches this summer, Hales says there are things you need to know before stepping into the water.

“Eelgrass beds are never a good thing to be wandering around in,” said Hales. “This (clinging jellyfish) adds new caution to wandering around in eelgrass beds which is in a lot of the bay’s shallow waters. I would just encourage people to be very careful going into those areas or to stay out of them.”

He adds additional information suggests it’s more abundant and active in the water during dusk and dawn due to overcast conditions or even in the early morning hours.

“These animals do what’s called diel vertical migration, they move up into the water column generally when light levels are lower,” said Hales. “So at those hours staying out of the water in those areas might be a good idea until we know more about them.”

He adds outside what’s been in the news, their group of researchers and technicians studying the bay have yet to collect any venomous jellyfish in the Barnegat system, but Hales acknowledge the newness of the breed and reiterates caution in these waters.

Despite Barnegat Bay being an estuary, Hales says the familiarity with these jellyfish is relatively unknown but, coastal ponds have occasionally spotted them.

Still Hales adds he hasn’t seen any reports of them being in fresh water, so if the water is brackish you may want to mull over any decision about entering into it.

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