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The amazing orange jellyfish invasion


Published: August 27, 2010

MONTEREY BAY is experiencing a jellyfish invasion.

Perhaps nobody knows this better than Bruckner Chase, the Santa Cruz man who was stung repeatedly by jellies on his hands, feet and face as he swam 25 miles across the bay Tuesday.

“In the last few weeks,” Monterey Bay Aquarium spokesman Jim Covel told The Pine Cone, “we have seen the numbers [of jellies] pick up in our end of the bay.”

This week, large numbers of West Coast sea nettles at Monterey’s Fisherman’s Wharf 2 drew curious tourists and locals who watched tens of thousands of the fluid creatures swim and float close to the surface.

“They just captivate people’s imagination,” Covel said. “I don’t know quite what it is. They look almost like alien life forms.”

It’s not known exactly why jellies are currently in such big numbers in Monterey Bay; however, Covel said it might have to do with one of their primary food sources — plankton.

“When we get a lot of upwelling,” he said, “the plankton population increases and the jelly population tends to increase with it.”

Jellies also eat small fish, eggs and larvae.

The jelly boom could also have something to do with the ocean’s current. Jellies are drifters.

“Since jellies are such crummy swimmers, they tend to go wherever the currents are pushing them,” Covel said. “From day to day as the as the currents [change], they shift around.”

Their stinging tentacles were a painful nuisance to Bruckner, who after 30 minutes into his 14-hour swim — which began in Santa Cruz and ended at San Carlos Beach in Monterey — put on a wetsuit to resist being stung.

Bruckner completed the swim, making him only the second person to accomplish the feat.

“In this particular batch of jellies, we have a lot of sea nettles and purple-striped jellies,” Covel said. “Both of those will get to be more than a foot in diameter, and the tentacles can stretch out to 2 or 3 feet or more.”

Although jellyfish in local waters produce a painful sting, they don’t cause any lasting harm to most people.

“We don’t have any real bad stingers here,” Covel said. “They [produce stings that] are noticeable to uncomfortable, unless people have a particularly severe reaction” because they’re allergic.

When a person comes in contact with a jelly, nematocysts on the tentacles automatically fire tiny barbed harpoons that penetrate the skin and release venom.