This week’s episode features Dr Kylie Pitt, from Griffith University, who told me about her passion for science, for sea jellies, and the new Sea Jellies Illuminated exhibit at Sea World Gold Coast.
Take a listen to the episode:
Jellyfish really are under-sung heroes of the ocean! When we think jellyfish, we usually think of people being stung, and no wonder, as Australia is home to the some painful, even deadly species. But there are many jellies that aren’t dangerous to humans, and in reality jellyfish are actually essential for a healthy blue future.
Jellyfish are an important part of the food-web – of course they are predators, that’s what the stinging is about, but they are prey too – they provide food for birds, turtles, fish, octopus, crabs and more. They deliver food even to the deepest parts of the ocean.
Even looking beyond their place in the food-web, they’re important. For example, in localised waters, the pulsing movement of the jellyfish bell as the animal swims can mix heat, nutrients and chemicals through the seawater, making it available to other organisms. They may provide camouflage, or even a taxi-service, to a whole host of other invertebrates, as Kylie mentioned:
Squishy but spellbinding!
Aside from anything else, jellies are, quite simply, marvelously interesting. They can clone themselves, regenerate themselves by reverting to former life stages to age all over again, and even re-arrange their remaining body if they suffer an injury.
Some are bioluminescent; some have symbioses with photosynthetic algae, just like coral. They have no heart or brain, but as an organism they’ve been so successful they ‘ve been around for half-a-billion years – predating dinosaurs. They were among the first animals the earth ever saw, and they were almost definitely the first animals to take naps!
Even the way they deliver their sting is brilliant – external pressure triggers cells to open and seawater to rush into the cell, and tiny needle-like stingers are ejected (good video here, if you can stand the dramatic music!)
Ups and downs
We hear such a variety of things about jellies: they’re either taking over the oceans, causing costly damage to industry, tourism, and aquaculture, or they represent great hope for future food security, cleaning our oceans, or even medical technology.
One thing that seems pretty clear is that all the benefits that jellyfish provide us could be outstripped by negatives, if we cause too much change to the ocean by overfishing, or if we allow climate change to progress unchecked.
But, as Kylie mentioned, there are many things we don’t know….
…. and in a world where the news seems to be filled with things we should fear, it’s pretty great that we have people who’ve dedicated their lives to understanding our world (scientists: ✔) and even better, those who commit to sharing that information and their passion with the rest of us (scientists who meaningfully engage the public ✔️✔️). These are the people we can turn to, so we know whether our fears or hopes are justified.
Take a sneak peek at Sea Jellies Illuminated: