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Jellygeddon? After Warm Spring, Jellyfish Count May Soar This Summer

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A jellyfish floats by in the Chesapeake Bay.
A jellyfish floats by in the Chesapeake Bay.

Every day, Maggie Sexton walks down to the pier on the Choptank River in Maryland and stares into the water.  

"I count all of the jellyfish i can see ... and I do this every day at noon," Sexton says.

She's a researcher at University of Maryland Center for Environmental Studies and this is how she surveys the population of jellyfish — the sea nettles in particular. They're definitely here this year, and the Chesapeake Bay may be seeing more jellyfish than usual this summer if predictions hold up.  

"The first jellyfish appeared on June 7 this year, which is a bit early," says Sexton. Usually they come out almost a month later. Sometimes they even wait till August. But not this year.

"This year we have had great conditions for jellyfish. The temperature has been very warm throughout the spring and we've had slightly below average rain fall and stream flow, so its both warm and salty which is good for jellies," Sexton says.

That means it could be a really big year for jellyfish. It's too early to say for sure, though, because not enough is known about the other life stages of jellyfish.

Because here's the thing about jellyfish. You could kill one, or ten of them, and you wouldn't really kill it. That's because it's just a piece of the "real" jellyfish. The "real" jellyfish lives on the bottom of the bay as a tiny polyp.

"The polyp stage is attached to the bottom, and in the spring time when the temperature and salinity increase, it begins a budding process," explains Sexton. "It grows several discs and each one of those discs has its own tentacles, and each one buds off." 

Each of those discs grows into a medusa, which is what we call a jellyfish.  The medusas undergo sexual reproduction, lay eggs, and live for only about a year.    

But the polyp remains there for several years. They can withstand the winter. Crazy, right?

"Yeah, they're these creatures with no brains but they go through all these stages," says Sexton.

To prepare for a possible heavy season of the jellies, health officials like Kevin Bristow, the medical director for the emergency department at Beebe Medical Center in Lewes, Del. are reminding people what to do if they become a casualty of 'Jellygeddon'. 

"In some cases, vinegar has been effective, but the most effective treatment for jellyfish stings is really just warm water," Bristow says. "The warm water denatures the protein on the nematode cyst and provides comfort." 

Despite the rumors, he adds, it doesn't work to pee on the wound.

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