18 Jan
Posted in: Uncategorized
By    No Comments

Stung: The Return of The Blob


In 1958, moviegoers watched the trailer for a new film about an unstoppable force that threatened to consume everything in its path. “Every one of you watching this screen, look out, because soon, very soon, the most horrifying monster menace ever conceived will be oozing into this theater!” “The Blob” was one of the creature films popular during the years of the Cold War, atomic bombs, and the seemingly unstoppable threat of communism. Watching the trailer today, it’s easy to laugh at the campiness of that advertisement. The threat of Communism was indeed stoppable, and today the world is a very different place than it was fifty-some years ago. That’s not to say, however, that there are no longer forces that threaten the planet.

In Stung: On Jellyfish Blooms and the Future of the Ocean, Lisa-ann Gershwin describes one particularly alarming threat: jellyfish. Roughly 1500 species of jellyfish exist, and they range in size from less than a millimeter at maturity (thinner than a dime) to at least two meters and 450 pounds (thicker than a dime – much thicker). According to Gershwin, the jellyfish population is increasing at an alarming rate, causing massive damage to fisheries and to the ecosystem in general. Stung is a close look at these creatures, their life cycles, and the reasons why they may pose a threat that makes the one created in “The Blob” pale by comparison.

Early on, Gershwin examines jellyfish blooms around the world: in the fjords of Norway, the ocean region off Namibia, the Indian Ocean coastline off Western Australia. Again and again, she paints a portrait of humans pushing an ecosystem to the edge with overfishing and pollutants, leaving an environment where jellyfish can thrive. One of the worst cases she describes takes place in the Black Sea. As Gershwin describes it, “both geology and water chemistry have created a situation whereby about 87 percent of the volume of the Black Sea is anoxic (i.e., without oxygen) and contains high levels of hydrogen sulfide. Only the shallow surface and shelf waters – the upper 13 percent – can support life.”

Here, a combination of geography, pollution, and overfishing created a deadly recipe for jellyfish blooms, which in turn may be the final nail in an ecosystem’s coffin. Gershwin describes one such invasion this way:
“The Black Sea was already in ecological freefall when (the jellyfish)Mnemiopsis arrived… Summertime blooms contained 300-500 specimens per cubic meter…to put this into perspective, that would be about 300 clenched fists in an area no larger than the leg room under a small breakfast table. Its population was estimated at over 1 billion tons, more than the world’s total annual fish landings. Then the zooplankton crashed. Then the anchovy fishery crashed.” What was left? Jellyfish. Lots of them. Moving in, taking over, and, in some cases, making it nearly impossible for the ecosystem to revivify itself.

Gershwin tells the alarming tale of the increasing jellyfish population with an abundance of scientific documentation mixed with a use of language that is vivid and lively, such as when she draws an alarming comparison between jellyfish and lawn weeds:
“Certain lifestyle characteristics are shared among weedy species. Generalists. Opportunistic. Versatile. Hardy. Tolerant of a broad range of ecological conditions. Will eat just about anything…Resist eradication. It’s these features that give weeds their edge. It’s what makes weeds weeds. One of the most important features of weeds is that they thrive in disturbed habitats. When ecosystems wobble, weeds flourish.”

Stung beats The Blob in terms of fear factor for one simple reason: the invasion here is real. Gershwin’s point is that through humanity’s exploitation of the fisheries, use of the ocean as a dumping ground, and destruction of climate, the proliferation of these unwelcome organisms is already well underway. The film trailer in that darkened theater in 1958 may have been hyperbolic, but may also ring true for today’s jellyfish population: “There’s no stopping The Blob as it spreads from town to town. It’s indestructible! It’s indescribable! Nothing can stop it!”

Leave a comment