LONG BEACH — Beachgoers on Saturday noticed an unusual number of jellyfish washed up on the Long Beach Peninsula, glistening globs looking something like transparent water balloons slowly deflating in the warm sunshine.
Also affecting beaches immediately to our south, citizen questions prompted this response from Seaside Aquarium: “What’s that blob!?! The Pacific Ocean hosts a variety of gelatinous species, and depending on the tide, they end up along Oregon’s shorelines. This summer, our beach has been inundated with one species in particular: the water jelly.”
Jellyfish in general are on the increase in the planet’s oceans. Writing last year in the online science journal JSTOR, Juliet Lamb reported, “Until now, they’ve been kept in check by marine predators, which eat jellies and their food sources. Seabirds, sea turtles, marine mammals, fish, and even other jellyfish have developed methods for overcoming the jellies’ defensive stings to take advantage of the abundant, accessible food source that they are. … With many of their predators in decline, jellies are freed from the predation and competition that otherwise keep them in check.”
Jellyfish also are well adapted for survival in the changing conditions of modern oceans, including the low-oxygen zones increasingly common along the Pacific Northwest coast.
“Bloodless and brainless, jellyfish are able to exist with very little oxygen,” Lamb reported. “Far from inhospitable, dead zones become competition-free plankton buffets. Once jellies take over, their tendency to consume fish larvae makes it difficult for other species to re-colonize the area even after oxygen levels return to normal.”
The recent mass grounding of jellyfish around the mouth of the Columbia River should not be a cause of concern — at least when it comes to the infamous toxins some species use to sting prey.
“Have no fear, though — the water jelly’s tentacles aren’t harmful to humans,” the Seaside Aquarium said on Facebook. “They are, however, laced with nematocysts. Nematocysts are a specialized cell that contain a barbed, sometimes venomous structure, shaped like a coiled thread. So if you can I would try to discourage your dog from eating them.”