In Mothballs, Mark brings our attention to yet another Guardian misinformation effort. (“You’ve read 7 articles in the past year” or similar, their website told me when I landed there. Perhaps I would like to dip my hand in my pocket for them? After all, the planet’s future hangs in the balance, or something.)
Climate crisis brings growing numbers of unusual jellyfish to UK seas
The article’s title is by itself slightly nonsensical. One would not expect a “Climate Crisis” to bring “unusual” jellyfish. If climate change brings unusual things, we could have called it the “Climate Surprise” or something like that. These new jellies should be toxic or something, not “unusual.”
[Caveat emptor in what follows: I know nothing about jellyfish. Or next to nothing, at any rate. I know a bit about invasive species.]
Anyway, the article does not begin well, illustrating its case with a photo of a Portuguese man o’ war, although they do earn themselves a brownie point by noting that it is “jellyfish-like”*:
What’s the problem with this? Well, as so often at times like this I reach for volume 1 of Sir Alister Hardy’s “The Open Sea” (1956, but I have a later edition). Within, we find these charts:
The caption should read 1945, not 1954. Wilson was not a time traveller.
We can hardly say, the Portuguese man o’ war was abundant in 1945, and it is abundant now, because climate breakdown. One presumes that even the most zealous revisionist would not claim that climate breakdown could be backdated that far.
Britain’s seas are becoming populated with large groups of unusual jellyfish owing to climate breakdown, a survey by the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) has found.
Even if the jelly fauna of the seas around the UK was changing, you would have to be an idiot to simply append “owing to climate breakdown” as a reason for it. What other reasons might there be for such changes, if they are real? You’d have to consider natural cycles and natural irregular irruptions. Pollution (eutrophication, not carbon dioxide). Um, what else? Oh yeh. Overfishing. But before you did that you’d have to make the case that your data proved that the fauna had changed. To do that you would not simply need an inventory of species. Instead you would have to control for effort and the locations that the effort was expended. Most public records of jellyfish are likely to be of washed-up specimens, I would have thought. This is not necessarily a good way to take a census.
Bioluminescent crystal jellyfish made up 3% of total sightings: these animals are nearly completely transparent, but give off an amazing green-blue light under certain circumstances because of the fluorescent protein produced by their bodies. They are usually found in the Pacific Ocean and rarely visit UK waters. One per cent of the sightings were sea gooseberries. Both were the highest percentages reported to date. The new arrivals suggests that warmer temperatures may be affecting jellyfish diversity in the UK.
First of all, as a kid I lived in Lowestoft, which as everyone knows, even the locals, has a beach. The most frequent “jellyfish” we found on the strand in those far-off days were… sea gooseberries. So how their abundance now can be a symptom of anything is unclear. What about the bioluminescent crystal beasts? For this we have a little more research to do, since, as noted, I know nothing about jellyfish.
A good place to go to look at the distribution of marine species is WoRMS, the World Register of Marine Species. Let’s see what it has to say about the distribution of our bioluminescent squishy friend, which I’m going to call Aequorea victoria, even if the Guardian refuses to. Yes, I did have to look the name up. Well, WoRMS has a distribution map, but it isn’t very clear. But from WoRMS you can go to OBIS (Ocean Biodiversity Information System), which has a clearer map and more detail about the species of interest. Here we can clearly see two centres of distribution – one, its “home range” off BC, and the other on the British Isles’ continental shelf…
…or can we? No, we can’t. The data, for all that it is an excellent resource and a great effort, actually shows us not where the jelly is, but where people have looked for it. Which is not very hard in not many places. The cluster of occurrences near the UK is entirely due to a systematic programme of surveys of the Irish Exclusive Economic Zone, put in place in 2003 and continuing to this day. What the data does show us is that this is not a tropical species appearing in our waters now thanks to climate breakdown or whatever. It’s perfectly happy at the temperature it finds itself here, because (if we believe the theory that it is an introduced species) that’s what it’s used to in its natural range.
If now you’re wondering when Jit is going to tell you how this beast reached our waters: well, I would, but I’m not sure. A potential guess would be via the Panama Canal. What may be a little known facet of (most) jellyfish lifecycles is that they have a sessile “polyp” stage which is generally quite small and cryptic, and a mobile “medusa” stage which is the familiar jellyfish itself. The polyps tend to stick to ship bottoms, and (I have seen it alleged) since tighter rules on anti-fouling paints came in, the quantity of free-riders appearing all around the marine world from who knows where has increased markedly. However, this route seems unlikely because of the freshwater stage of a ship’s journey through the canal, which would not favour marine species clinging to the hull, which might explode. What about via the Suez canal? Marine all the way, and the species has been recorded in south-east Asia and the Med. In short, I’ve no idea, but you would have to twist my arm a long way – and I’m a certified wimp – to get me to say that “climate breakdown” had anything to do with it.
OK, I’m going to the MCS website now to look for the actual report…
…well, can’t find it. But I did find this:
Jellyfish: Helpful hero, not stinging villain
Jellyfish play an important role in the carbon cycle, which in turn assists in climate regulation.
Yuk. Seriously? Dead things sinking?
By preying on fish which have an abundant population, jellyfish help to control fish stocks. Controlling these fish populations frees up some of the ocean’s resources, which can be used by less well-established fish species. This allows these fish species to grow and thrive, helping to enhance ocean biodiversity.
Codswallop. This practice of turning ecology into a nursery school story has got to stop. Nothing has purpose other than to survive and reproduce, and in the sea that generally means eating other animals. Life is not a just-so story.
“When an invasive species of jellyfish called Mnemiopsis entered the Black Sea and preyed on fish, it had a devastating impact on the fish populations and the Turkish fishing industry. But jellyfish later came to the rescue, when the Bereo [sic] species was introduced to the waters. Bereo [sic] prey on Mnemiopsis and almost nothing else – this meant the number of invasive jellies decreased, the number of fish increased once again, and the ecosystem was able to recover.
Is that so? I was under the impression that the anchovy stock collapsed by overfishing. To my way of thinking, this might have increased the abundance of zooplankton, leaving a banquet on offer for a few jellyfish that happened to get pumped out of a ballast tank into the Black Sea, allowing them to multiply like exponents. Naturally when you can practically walk across the Black Sea on the backs of one introduced species of jellyfish, it’s not surprising that another species, this time a jellyfish predator, would thrive and do well when pumped out of some other ballast tank. Alas for the expert writer, the genus “Bereo,” which sounds like a biscuit, should read Beroë. Also, it is traditional to italicise Latin: Beroë. Also, you said species, and you gave the name of a genus. Tut.
I’m giving up there. I’ve already had enough of the MCS. I’ve yet to forgive them for supporting offshore wind, and the frankly juvenile information on their website has done nothing to win back my favour. [I know, they don’t care.]
There is no sign of any breakdown here other than in the Guardian’s grip on reality. Don’t just put out **** blaming everything that happens on “climate breakdown.” Find out more. Try to understand the subject. Ecology is generally common sense, as I may have said before. But if all you’re going to do is parrot “because climate breakdown,” we might as well have a “climate breakdown” announcer on the wall. We could call it Greta.
SCENE: JIT’S KITCHEN
Jit: “Greta, why is there no cat food left in the cupboard?”
Greta (sarcastic): “Climate breakdown, I should think.”
*Same phylum, but different class. I probably knew most of the marine phyla for about 45 minutes once. The problem is that most of them look like worms.
Special Friday COP bonus
The figure shows the record of previous COPs in reducing global CO2 emissions:
JIT Fascinating, brings back some of my earlier love of nature (I read zoology at university). When were you going to tell us Portuguese Men O’War were communities of different organisms and not plain old jellyfish? Up the Siphonophores.
I remember being so pleased with myself that I had identified something I had , as a schoolboy, I read about and that was half decayed.
There’s a much more common relative of the PMoW on British shores. Circular, with a curved keel at right angles to the disc these remnants these can be found in their thousands on some beaches. Used to be called chondrophores, god knows what now. But definitely still carnivorous Hydrozoa.
Far more informative than the Guardian article – I learned nothing from reading the Guardian article, but I learned a lot from that. Thank you.
Well, I saw a connection. OTT compliment intended.
Surely we must realise “Climate crisis brings growing numbers of unusual ….(species)…. to UK …” because also world-renowned climatologists of the RSPB told the BBC.
“Bee-eaters in Norfolk ‘worrying sign of climate change’
Rare “rainbow birds” trying to breed in the UK was a “worrying sign of how our climate is changing”, the RSPB said.”
Despite the inconvenient fact the BBC ignored evidence of over 80 different verified visits to UK by over 160 bee-eaters between 1793 and 1957.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Last week there was a statement from some American Space organisation, that if ever aliens arrived here they might not be interested in us. A communal life with different versions of yourself like the Sophomores might be more interesting to them. And we, the veritable peak of our giaplex, would be pushed aside.
Read it in the Guardian
You speak of the by-the-wind sailor.
Richard, perhaps my low tolerance of this sort of thing is that it is not harmless. It appears to sustain the idea of plants and animals in some way working together as a giant sustainable super-organism, which is being thrown into chaos by humans.
Joe, in those days shooting anything that moved was considered perfectly acceptable. Now, it is considered perfectly acceptable to erect giant whirling indiscriminate bird death machines.
Alan #2, I do like the idea of Sophomores as a separate taxon, but I think autocorrect got in on the game somewhere. There are no siphonophores (Order) any more, because Hydrozoa (Class) have been shoved into the Cnidaria (Phylum), which used to be Coelenterata.
LikeLiked by 2 people
My mistake, having looked it up. There are still siphonophores: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siphonophorae
“Joe, in those days shooting anything that moved was considered perfectly acceptable. Now, it is considered perfectly acceptable to erect giant whirling indiscriminate bird death machines.”
At least then (before photography & Twitter became popular with the masses) when they shot the creatures, they provided irrefutable evidence that those creatures were in Norfolk & Britain. 😉
Alan: Alien intelligence is where this Lex Fridman podcast starts.
It’s very long and I won’t pretend to have watched it all but I find it interesting where leading AI thinkers are up to on such matters. I respect Andrej Karpathy in not pretending that we’ve reproduced biology.
I agree it’s not harmless – and (as I assume you also feel) that it’s not science. I learn from you how a real biologist and ecologist comes at such things and that’s very valuable to me.
There’s the common sense part and the hard-headedness needed to face up to what the data is or isn’t telling us. I’d just read the Feynman quote and it did strike a chord of unity across real science.
But why blame humans so much? That takes us into a malignant metaphysics methinks.
Will Jellyfish Rule the World?: A Book About Climate Change by Leo Hickman, Publisher Puffin (4 Jun. 2009).
amazon book blurb –
“Product description From the Back Cover –
What do a glacier and a canary have in common?
Why DOES it rain so much in Britain?
If you’ve ever wondered what’s really happening to our planet, green expert Leo Hickman is here to answer all your questions. And to discusses issues like:
Drunken trees (has the pine tree been at the gin bottle?)
Hurricanes named Henri
Lizards sunbathing in Antarctica
PLUS many more curious causes and effects of climate change.
So beware! The jellyfish haven’t taken over the world . . . Yet.”