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"AAAACHOO!" sneezed the

“AAAACHOO!” sneezed the whale.


The Inertia

There are few things that disgust me more than jellyfish. It’s funny, though. When I see one, I have to touch it. However, once I do, I’ll  squeal like a small girl and sprint away as fast as my small girl legs will take me. They’re like giant boogers of the sea. Incredibly interesting boogers.

Out of all the jellyfish in the world, there is one that stands out, size-wise. Nomura’s Jellyfish, in all its boogerness, can tip the scales at 450 pounds. That’s as much as Big Van Vader. Remember that guy? (ooooOOOO IT’S TIME! IT’S TIME! IT’S VADER TIME! Does that help?) Big Van Vader was not a small person, and he didn’t have any tentacles dragging off his butt.

Usually found off China and Korea, these floating gelatinous blobs hang out in the Yellow Sea and East China Sea, trying their best to not get caught in fishermen’s nets, which is a real crisis. In recent years, starting around a decade ago, there has been a massive population explosion, due to a variety of factors. Explanations for the explosion vary from global warming to overfishing to agricultural nutrients running off due to over farming. Whatever the reason, the enormous amount of extra Nomura’s Jellyfish is a very real thing: all sorts of crazy shit has been going on because of it. In 2005, a year worse than most, the Sea of Japan brimmed with as many as 20 billion. In 2009, a Japanese fishing trawler flipped when they attempted to haul in their nets, which happened to be full of Nomura’s Jellyfish. That actually happened, and not in a 1950’s Japanese horror flick.

Before anyone gets their Fukushima nuclear panties in a knot, according to a report from the University of Washington, these population explosions aren’t that uncommon – it’s just that they used to happen every forty years or so. Now, however, it’s almost an annual thing. In one report back in 1958, fishing trawlers pulled in 20,000 to 30,000 giant jellies a day during the peak of the boom. Assuming (using the highest weight and highest numbers for shock value) that they pulled in 30,000 450 pound Nomura’s Jellyfish, that’s 13,500,000 pounds of quivering sea-boogers every single day. No wonder the Japanese love Godzilla and Mothra: giant creatures hit close to home.

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There are good things (obviously) about these creatures, though. Everywhere you look, sea boogers are getting a bad rap. They don’t mean to capsize boats and clog nets and cost Japanese fishermen millions of yen. They don’t even have brains, and their mouth doubles as their butt, which is gross. But they keep the complex relationship between all sea creatures at a normal state… until humans come along and blow the whole thing out of the water with over-fishing. See, Nomura’s Jellyfish eat fish eggs, among lots of other things. As we stupid humans steal all the fish from the sea for sashimi, cat food, and Filet o’ Fish (if those are indeed made of fish), there are fewer eggs to turn into fish. 124 kinds of fish species are known to feed on jellies and a lot of those species’ stocks are getting dangerously low. Thank God they’re getting low under the water where it’s easy to ignore, right?

According to a Yale report from 2011, when jellyfish dominate an ecosystem, most of the fish will disappear. Remember the Precambrian world, more than 550 million years ago? Me neither. But scientists say Great-x-10000 grandfathers of the jellies ruled the seas back then. And they’re out there. On a research vessel in 2009, 95% of biomass netted by scientists in the Yellow Sea was comprised of jellyfish.

It might not be all doom and gloom, though. Although it’s clear that jellyfish blooms (and not just Nomura’s Jellies) are getting much more frequent, there have been many cases in the past where jellyfish basically had marine ecosystems in a full, rear-naked choke. And then let go. In the ’90s, perhaps due to the Dippity Doo craze, jellyfish numbers skyrocketed in the Bering Sea. In fact, the numbers then looked a lot like they do now. Around the turn of the century, however, they dropped back to normal, causing an audible sigh of relief from the Russians. “слава богу,” they said. “What?” asked everyone else.

While it’s obvious that Nomura’s Jellyfish are disgusting and their numbers are rapidly rising, it does bring to light the fact that our intrusions into the natural world often have much wider spread effects than we think. More giant sea-boogers isn’t just gross, it’s an alarm of sorts, warning us (again) that yes, ravaging the planet isn’t a good thing.

Want to see more Crazy Creatures of the Week? Check out the Coconut Crab and the Goblin Shark. Oh, the horror!

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