Clinging Jellyfish Found in New Jersey

By Erin Delmore

“With the really small jellyfish like this, in order to capture its prey, it’s got to stun it and kill it very rapidly. So some of these very small organisms have very potent stings,” said Paul Bologna, director of marine biology and coastal sciences at Montclair State University.

No need to tell that to the 20-year-old Lincroft man who was hospitalized for three days — treated with morphine — for what he suspects was a sting from a clinging jellyfish.

“It’s never been recorded in New Jersey, so we weren’t sure until we had a positive hit on the DNA,” Bologna said.

Now, it’s official. These dime-sized pests are small, mighty and they’re residents of the Garden State.

“They tend to be in more quiet waters, so within the Shrewsbury Estuary, within back bays, within areas that the water is a little but more calm. The habitat they like is things like eel grass beds, sort of the sea lettuce that you might see in those areas, that tends to be the places that you’re going to potentially encounter them,” Bologna said.

This research team is on the lookout for clinging jellyfish in Barnaget Bay where a fisherman found the first one earlier this month. They’re translucent, save for a small “X” in their centers.

“What we do is we take out a long net that’s sort of cone-shaped and it has a weighted end on the back so we drop it off the boat and the boat’s going very, very slowly. So it trails off in the distance behind us and it stays submerged completely below the surface for a minute and then we lift the net up and what that does is, everything that’s smaller than 350 micrometers, so really small, would come out. Everything that’s larger stays inside and once we collect those organisms and once we get them back on the boat, we rinse them down in a sieve and preserve them in a jar to bring home with us,” said Dena Restaino, Ph.D. student of environmental management at Montclair State University.

“We’ve collected I think 70 or 80 of those kinds of clinging jellyfish a couple days ago, and there’s a lot of them. It went from kind of one person found one, and suddenly now here we are with a bunch,” said Christie Barry, Ph.D. student of environmental management at Montclair State University.

This group and the Department of Environmental Protection are examining the Barnaget Bay as part of an action plan by Gov. Chris Christie, crafted in 2010, revamped in 2012.

New Jersey’s jellyfish population took a hit during Superstorm Sandy, when intense weather tore growing polyps off their habitats. But now much of that’s been rebuilt and that means more docks and bulkheads for new jellyfish to call their homes.

“It kind of like increases the diversity of these small organisms that we really have not seen before,” Bologna said.

The good news: clinging jellyfish aren’t found in ocean waters where Bologna says the surf would tear them apart. Since their translucent bodies make them hard to spot, he has a word of caution for swimmers in New Jersey’s rivers and bays: look before you leap.