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Israel’s ‘larger than ever’ jellyfish are here

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According to scientists at the University of Haifa’s Leon H. Charney School of Marine Sciences, the huge swarm of jellyfish situated just off the port city’s coastline ‘are bigger this year than in other years.’

By ILANIT CHERNICK

Israel’s yearly jellyfish pilgrimage is back, but this time scientists have warned that they are a little bigger than usual.

At the start of every Summer, Israel’s shores become inundated with this umbrella-like marine creature with trailing tentacles that do sting.

According to scientists at the University of Haifa’s Leon H. Charney School of Marine Sciences, the huge swarm of jellyfish situated just off the port city’s coastline are “larger than ever.”

“Overall, this is the summer bloom of jellyfish that we anticipate,” explained Prof. Dror Angel in a statement released this week. “But there’s a slight difference in the size of jellyfish — on average, they’re bigger this year than in other years.”

Addressing if there could be any connection between the coronavirus pandemic and the size of the jellyfish, Angel said no, making it clear that their increased size was probably because of this year’s wet winter.

“I don’t think the coronavirus has anything to do with the jellyfish,” he explained. “We had a very rainy winter this year, and the runoff that reached the sea provided a lot of nutrients that contributed to the formation of the jellyfish bloom. 

He pointed out this nutrients then feed the algae and “the algae bloom and are eaten by small plankton herbivores, and these are then eaten by the jellyfish.”

Although he touched on the fact human-driven factors like pollution could have an effect on the jellyfish blooms, “at the moment, we think natural phenomena have more of an impact than human effects,” adding that “we haven’t identified human-driven factors” as of yet.

In the last 10 years, Angel said that there have been different, intriguing species appearing on Israel’s coastline. 

“Although we consider them [the larger breed] new, it’s possible that they’ve been around and we just didn’t see them until they became more abundant,” he said. “It seems that the more you look, the more you see.”

Over the last few years, Angel’s team has been “trying to understand the ecology of the various jellyfish in our coastal waters: When do the blooms appear; why are they bigger or smaller in some years and so on.

According to Israel’s jellyfish tracking website, Meduzot, the most common species of jellyfish to visit Israel’s shores is the Rhopilema nomadica, otherwise known as the nomad jellyfish.

Earlier this month, Haifa’s School of Marine Sciences released a report identifying its arrival. 

“It can be identified by its blue dome and many long strings that surround its tentacles,” the university said. “The species is known to have arrived in the Mediterranean via the Suez Canal, but is now considered a local Mediterranean species.”

Angel and his team “are also looking for missing evidence in the lifecycle of the nomad jellyfish – where are certain life stages found, what eats the jellyfish and what do the jellyfish eat, how they interact with the marine system.”

As part of their research the scientists are exploring whether jellyfish could be used in the fight against reducing microplastic pollution in the water, as well.

Angel highlighted that “one of the outstanding observations over the past decade is that we keep finding what we consider new jellyfish in our coastal waters. 

“We’re trying to understand the ecology of the various jellyfish in our coastal waters — when do the blooms appear, why are they bigger or smaller in some years, and so on,” he concluded.

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