Last week, Bruckner Chase of Santa Cruz set out to become the second person ever to swim across Monterey Bay. He intended to use the publicity surrounding the 14-hour slog to raise awareness about ocean issues.
But then the ocean did a little awareness raising of its own. Thirty minutes into the swim, jellyfish---whose swelling numbers are considered by many to be a symptom of unhealthy seas---began to swarm.
“I’m like, ‘Come on guys, I’m trying to help here,’” Chase said later.
The jellies could not be reasoned with---Chase was soon being stung everywhere, even inside his mouth. He made it through the swim by putting on a wet suit after about two hours, at his wife’s insistence. (She was beside him in an escort boat.) Jellies stopped a California woman attempting the same swim the week before, reportedly stinging her hundreds of times. But even in the wet suit---which protected all but Chase’s face and extremities---conditions were less than pleasant.
“During the last mile,” one news account said, “Chase felt (the jellyfish) oozing through his hands with every stroke and realized ‘that had I not been in a wetsuit, I would not have been able to physically survive.’”
Ah, memories. I spent a chunk of the spring reading stories like this one while researching jellyfish for our 40th anniversary issue, and this summer I haven’t been able to resist keeping up with the latest jelly current events (although I did chicken out of my colleagues’ jellyfish-eating expedition). As usual, the jellies have been up to no good:
- The Mediterranean is jelly soup this summer. Mauve stingers (a creepy glow-in-the-dark variety) shut down several Spanish beaches, and exotic species---like blue buttons and cigar jellies---have been spotted around Malta. A few days ago, a 69-year-old woman was stung by a Portuguese man o’ war (which is technically not a jellyfish) on the Sardinian coast. She went into anaphylactic shock and died.
- Closer to home, black sea nettles have made unwelcome visits to San Diego, another jelly species is plaguing Atlantic City, and at least 10,000 people have been stung near an island off of Georgia (compared to 1,370 in 2006). Lifeguards attribute the stinging streak in part to an unusually robust population of lion’s mane jellies. They’ve been treating the wounds with a product called Jellyfish Squish.
- In New Hampshire, an unwitting lifeguard likely aided the enemy when he tried to remove a dead jellyfish from the beach with a pitchfork. The body broke into floating pieces, stinging more than 100 bathers.
On the bright side, though, scientists have been studying a fish that actually seems to thrive in the jellyfish-infested waters off of Namibia, where most fish species have been pushed out. Cute little bearded gobies are immune to jelly stings and even have a taste for jellies, which make up a third of their diet.
Abigail Tucker is the magazine’s staff writer.