The War on Jellyfish

By Lexi Galuska

As I sat in a kayak with my sister nearby, I turned to her and announced: “I am declaring war on jellyfish.” We had been trying to enjoy a family afternoon in late August by going out on the South River, when our kayaks were ambushed by hordes upon hordes of jellyfish. I regarded them in pure disgust and fear as I tried to push them away with my paddle. Thus far, I’d counted a total of 24. My sister laughed at my odd declaration, but couldn’t necessarily bring herself to disagree with the utter superfluousness of the jellyfish’s existence. In all honesty, I believed this war would have gotten more support from the public than almost any other war the U.S. had fought; everyone hates jellyfish. They are, after all, unnecessary. All they do is drift like translucent mines through the brown waters and sting people. Everyone sitting out on their boats or on the dock was too afraid to swim, save for one man who waved his beer bottle in salutation as he informed us that he was, at that present moment, being stung.

Even when I was eight, my disdain for the loathsome jellyfish was beginning to grow. I was visiting my cousins in New Jersey during the summer, and we had decided to go to the beach. Our territory had been seized by the enemy. So many jellyfish had washed ashore, it was difficult to walk on the sand, and impossible go into the water. I vividly remember screaming at my cousin to watch out as the waves pushed one right toward her ankle, five feet from the water’s edge. My third grade teacher later commended me for my bravery.

The kayak incident had cemented for me the idea that jellyfish were the enemy of all things good, and their ultimate extinction was a worthy goal. Unfortunately for me, war would not be so simple. The particular type of jellyfish I had come across is the one most people are familiar with: scyphozoa. We should probably consider ourselves blessed that this is the case, seeing as the hydrozoa can grow to be over 50 meters long and the cubozoa contains enough venom to kill a person with one sting. I learned this, of course, after turning to Google for sober clarity and a plan of attack.

Evidently, environmentalists disagreed with my position. Jellyfish, I learned, are a type of zooplankton that feed off of anything from fish eggs to actual fish. They are a necessary part of the underwater food chain, as they provide food for crustaceans, sea turtles, fish, and sharks. Jellyfish also have been alive for more than 500 million years, about 300 million years longer than people have been on Earth. Most people along the east coast know that you put seawater on a jellyfish sting to ease the pain. Most people don’t know that jellyfish fuel underwater ecosystems and are essential to the deep-sea carbon cycle.

In my defense, jellyfish are not portrayed in the most flattering light. A jellyfish almost killed Dory in Finding Nemo. Kids at the beach are told that jellyfish are dangerous and should be avoided at all costs (a safe message, nonetheless). It’s easy to assume that jellyfish are wasteful, useless creatures put on God’s earth for the sole purpose of making our lives miserable. Wasps, mosquitoes, termites–endless pests that plague the world seem to have no immediate purpose. However, when we consider that there might be a purpose, that these animals have evolved and survived for so long for a reason, only then can we tolerate and accept sharing an environment with these complex creatures.

It’s easy to hate what we don’t understand. The challenge is to strive for understanding.