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Are There Clinging Jellyfish in Barnegat Bay?

State officials will undertake a study to find out if a population of clinging jellyfish exists in Barnegat Bay.

The dime-sized jellyfish, an invasive species from the Pacific Ocean, were first discovered in New Jersey earlier this month when a man fishing the Point Pleasant Canal discovered one, scooped it up and brought it to Jenkinson’s Aquarium. In the weeks since, the jellyfish have shown up in significant numbers in Monmouth County – mainly the Shrewsbury and Navesink rivers, but also the Manasquan River. One man in Monmouth Beach suffered a sting that required him to seek treatment at a local hospital.

While the first jellyfish was found in the area of the canal, the extent to which the creatures might be present in Barnegat Bay is largely unknown. Efforts to find the clinging jellyfish this week focused on Monmouth County, but a more formal study commissioned by the state Department of Environmental Protection will focus on the northern portion of the bay.

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The study will not include the ocean. No clinging jellyfish have been found on coastal beaches, nor are they anticipated, as they prefer to cling to vegetation found in sheltered bay and estuarine waters. Dr. Paul Bologna, a research scientist at Montclair State University, has said the chances of encountering a clinging jellyfish in the ocean is slim, since the creatures would likely not be able to survive in the surf zone due to their small size.

“These jellyfish have been found in waters of Massachusetts and the eastern tip of Long Island, but have never been reported in noticeable numbers in New Jersey until this year,” said Dr. Gary Buchanan, Director of the DEP’s Division of Science, Research and Environmental Health. “Consequently, we do not know if these recent reports of clinging jellyfish are isolated or if they are becoming established in areas of the state.”

The DEP has authorized a 30 day-long study that will involve systematic trawling of the water to collect any jellyfish that may be present, as well deployment of artificial sea grass mats to see if they attract clinging jellyfish, and genetic analysis. The DEP will release its findings to the public after the study is concluded.

The study will be launched within the next week. In addition to the main methods being employed to find the jellyfish, beach seines will be used in shallow waters and crews on boats will also be using zooplankton seines in open water in an effort to capture adult jellyfish, known as medusa.

“Given that this species has not been recorded in New Jersey, we need to understand the distribution and life history to establish a baseline,” said Bologna. “This will support the development of public education and management strategies.”

After samples are collecting, a genetic analysis will be conducted which will identify where the jellyfish came from as well as the stability of their population in New Jersey, said Montclair Associate Professor John Gaynor.

“These DNA breeding tools may also permit us to monitor other waterways and determine if they are present elsewhere,” he said.

Areas of focus for the study will include locations that have submerged vegetation, creek mouths and marinas. Any specimens that are collected will be sent to a laboratory for positive identification.

According to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, the clinging jellyfish has a red, orange or violet cross across its middle. Each jellyfish can trail 60 to 90 tentacles that uncoil like sharp threads and emit painful neurotoxins. Both the adult (medusa) and polyp stages of the clinging jellyfish are capable of stinging, a mechanism they use to stun prey and to defend against predators. They mainly feed on zooplankton.

[box type=”shadow” align=”” class=”” width=””]Tips for a Clinging Jellyfish Sting

  • Use only vinegar to remove the tentacles – not fresh water.
  • Rinse the area with salt water and remove any remaining tentacle materials using gloves or a thick towel.
  • A hot compress can then be applied to alleviate pain.
  • Seek immediate assistance from your doctor, urgent care, or the ER for further treatment of the sting. [/box]

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