Beware the jellies


    It may be safe to enter the ocean again. But, then again, it may not.

    Local lifeguard Capt. Dan Atkins was out for a swim Monday at Zuma Beach when he was stung on a good portion of his calf by a jellyfish hanging out in local waters in Malibu.

    However, it seems as if the jellyfish rush has abated from Memorial Day weekend when the first rash of stings occurred, with about 150 stings a day being reported. Atkins said there were 25 medical assists due to jellyfish stings on Monday, however, that number is less than the 40 reported the week before on July 5.

    “I thought they were backing off a bit,” said Atkins. “They’re still here stinging people.”

    Lifeguard Capt. Kirk Thomas said that on Memorial weekend they were caught unprepared and had to use rubbing alcohol and seawater to treat the stings. Now, all towers are stocked with vinegar, the best-known remedy to stop the activation of new stinging cells.

    “The biggest fear is being allergic to them,” said Atkins.

    Just as with allergic reactions to bee stings or other causes, there could be breathing problems and it could lead to death, said Atkins.

    However, there have been no serious reports of reactions to the stings.

    “There have been some nice specimens out there,” said Thomas of the jellyfish, with some having 2-foot round heads.

    The Baywatch patrol during duty took an underwater picture of one jellyfish that had a coffee-plate size head with a 12-14 foot long tail, said Thomas.

    According to the California University of Berkeley web site at, jellyfish can range in size from a “mere twelve millimeters to more than two meters (about six-and-half feet) across.” One classification of jellyfish, the cyanea arctica, sometimes have tentacles more than 40 meters (approximately 131 feet) long.

    Jellyfish sightings have been reported as far south as Bolsa Chica in Orange County where a surfer told Thomas they were everywhere.

    Capt. of Lifeguard Operations Jim Doman said that 1988 was the last time they had such a large amount of jellyfish in local waters.

    As to why, recently, there are so many showing up, Mike Schaadt, exhibits director of the Cabrillo Marine Museum in San Pedro, said, “Nobody knows for sure. There are no definite answers.”

    However, he did say that the El Nino weather event a couple of years ago brought a lot of warm water and now with colder water pushing up nutrient-rich food from deep waters to the surface of the ocean, there is a larger food source available for the jellyfish.

    “Microscopic-rich plants [called copepods] are growing well [which jellyfish eat],” said Schaadt.

    Schaadt explained that jellyfish are plankton.

    “People are shocked when told that jellies are plankton,” said Schaadt. “We’re all taught that plankton are microscopic organisms.”

    Which he explained they are, but plankton also includes larger creatures.

    Schaadt explained that the jellyfish washing ashore are “all less than a year old. They grow from pin-size to the large monsters we are seeing in three to four months.”

    In explaining the life-cycle of a jellyfish, Schaadt said the fertilized egg of a jelly lands on a dock or anchor and grows into what a sea anemone looks like–a polyp, up to a quarter-inch tall. After two to three years the polyps reproduce by cloning (Schaadt noted that cloning has been around much longer than the famously cloned sheep Dolly). In late winter or early spring the polyps undergo another type of cloning, which produces rings of 12 to 20 stacked jellyfish. Each one is the size of a pin head. These then grow to the 2-foot diameter giants that people are seeing today.

    “It’s not every year they get this big,” said Schaadt, “because the food source is not always that abundant.”

    Jellies have no brain, no heart, no lungs and no gills, said Schaadt.

    “They do have a mouth, stomach and reproductive organs,” he said.

    Seeming that jellies do not have much of a life, Schaadt is asked what is the purpose of a jellies’ life?

    “To make more jellies,” he said laughing.