Monday, January 28, 2013


Some source material for ABC Journos, just in case they think the word "unprecedented" is appropriate for the current flooding down the east coast:

Hint try the following links:
Brisbane Floods: 122050 articles
Sydney Floods: 199516 articles
Queensland Floods: 139434 articles
QLD Floods: 1141 articles
New South Wales Floods: 115067 articles

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Some Wobbly Numbers: a response

Via an email received while away on a WEB Dr Gershwin responds to our piece "Some Wobbly Numbers".
Received 8/1/2013. Our comments in (italics).

Thank you for a very entertaining article! I was unaware of the ‘raining jellyfish’ report and will add that to my archives. (No Worries).

I am intrigued and inspired by your interest in this subject, and would like to invite you to be part of my research team in ferreting out obscure historical reports  (We are always on the look out for a beat up-suggest you bookmark this blog for future Jellyfish madness. Of course any use of material generated would be on  a fee for service arrangement. But here's another freebie or three "Dead Jellyfish cause exodus". A simple search of "Jellyfish" at the NLA's excellent Newspaper Archive will find many more, or try the British Newspaper Archive which will yield such gems - for a fee - as "ATTACKED BY A JELLYFISH" and JELLYFISH INVADE FORTH or JELLYFISH INVADE CARNOUSTIE GOLF COURSE).

There seems to be some confusion between the Irukandji stings at Fraser and jellyfish blooms in general. The Fraser stings probably have less to do with general jellyfish bloom dynamics than with cubozoan response to the wonky weather pattern  that we are currently in. Jellyfish blooms in general seem to have more to do with response to various human impacts than with climate per se (although some very well studied blooms correlated with climate). (So wonky weather to blame! Pity that the ABC did not report this. Perhaps you can send a complaint to ABC HQ so they will correct their misleading article. We'd be happy to post your complaint and their reply).

You see, not all species respond in the same ways and degrees to the same stimuli.  (err Der Fred).

The study that you referenced about 'no evidence of increase' is paradoxically of little relevance to the current discussion on jelly blooms. (As your discussion below indicates its actually highly relevant and something the ABC should have sought comment on, instead on relying on just one "expert".)  Instead of examining the obvious question of nuisance jellyfish responses to human impacts, they very broadly and superficially looked at all jellyfish over the whole world. There was so much noise in their data that no pattern was detected. It would be similar to studying the research question “do flowers bloom in the spring” and finding that because some species don’t in some places, therefore a uniform “yes” could not be concluded. Thus the importance of coupling the right sampling with the right question.

However, two studies that immediately followed used a more appropriate methodology and found strong evidence of a relationship between human impacts and jellyfish blooms: (1) Brotz, L. et al. 2012. Increasing jellyfish populations: trends in Large Marine Ecosystems. Hydrobiologia 690: 3-20, and (2) Purcell, J. E. 2012. Jellyfish and ctenophore blooms coincide with human proliferations and environmental perturbations. Ann. Rev. Mar. Sci. 4: 209-235. There have since been numerous other long-term studies published, which also refute Condon's conclusions.

Consider the following:  Brotz analysed jellyfish blooms in 45 so-called Large Marine Ecosystems, and found an increasing trend in 28 (62%), a decreasing trend in 3 (7%), and no obvious trend in 14 (31%). Similarly, Purcell found that 6 of the world's top 10 impacted regions, plus 8 others in the top 100, coincide with regions of notable recent jellyfish blooms and high indicator values. Many of the other highly-impacted ecoregions may well be experiencing jelly?sh bloom problems too, but remain undocumented for whatever reason.

Moreover, there seems to be general confusion over the subtle distinction between trends and problems. It would be ludicrous to suggest that as long as the current rate of cancer stays the same, then that’s ok.  Regardless of how or why people get different types of cancer, and of inclining or declining trends, cancer is a problem and should be researched for better outcomes.  If you had cancer, the announcement that there is insufficient evidence to demonstrate that cancer is on the increase would bring you no relief. Similarly, if you run a business or work in an industry that is heavily impacted by jellyfish, the JEDI announcement is a joke.
(Not entirely sure where this paragraph is going, is it a joke?)

Finally, if you have read the paper in question (Condon, R. H et al. 2012. Questioning the Rise of Gelatinous Zooplankton in the World's Oceans. BioScience 62: 160-169), you will have found that they do actually acknowledge that jellyfish blooms appear to be on the rise in some areas, and that jellyfish do respond to human impacts, but that due to historical lack of research interest in the subject, we lack good long term data to be able to fully understand what contemporary blooms mean.

All well and good, but entirely irrelevant. We merely used the popular literature to demonstrate that there have been jelly fish problems in the past, and there will be in the future. It's a pity no one seems to have done some basic literature review work that would look at the history of jelly fish problems in Australia and elsewhere. And please note there are no jelly fish deniers here! In regard to comments about Condon's work suggest you take it up with Condon; perhaps through a comment to the journal in question. Afterall that's the usual manner of criticism of academic work. Lengthy diatribes sent to an obscure blog are unlikely to meet with much approval on your next ARC grant submission. We note in their press release  Condon state the following which you presumably consider to be of little relevance"Given the potential damage posed by jellyfish blooms to fisheries, tourism and other human industries, the findings of the group foretell recurrent phases of rise and fall in jellyfish populations that society should be prepared to face."

I have a popular science book coming out in May on this very subject ( ) (One hopes any profits generated will be put to good use, I know of some important cancer research that is looking for support) . If you really believe that jellyfish blooms are bunk (I don't! My point clearly made is that they have occurred before and are likely to occur again. Seems like someone wasn't paying attention.) , it might be best if you don’t read it – it would just make you angry (think you have the wrong person there. Jelly fish numbers are not something that gets my goat. ABC's continued abuse of its charter on the other hand does turn my stomach). On the other hand, if you are interested to learn about something that has probably been off your radar until now, you might find it quite interesting. (Perhaps you can send me a free copy, I'd me happy to provide a review).

Sincerely, Dr Lisa-ann Gershwin

Friday, January 4, 2013

Some wobbly numbers

ABC report: Jellyfish numbers on the rise, expert says.
Seems Three people in Queensland have been stung by the irukandji jellyfish since New Year's Eve.
"Dr Gershwin says there have been huge, unexplained jellyfish blooms across the country. "It tends to be things like over fishing, climate change pollution too much fertiliser and too much sewage in the coastal waters," she said." (or perhaps periodic global fluctuations are to blame?-see below).

"The cause has not been isolated but the sting has been named lrukandji, after an aboriginal tribe which originally inhabited the area between Trinity Inlet and the Mowbray River."

1954 also a bumper Jelly Fish year with "NINE Jelly Fish Victims at Yorkey's Knob". 
"Nine cases of jelly fish stings kept lifesaver first-aid groups busy at Yorkey's Knob yesterday and several other bathers were treated for minor cuts. One jelly fish sting victim,  a seven-year-old girl, was taken to hospital."

Sharks also a nuisance but it seems friendly flipper chased them away:
"The water was again cleared later in the- afternoon for a short period when a shark came within 30yards of the beach. Two porpoises chased it out to sea."

Back in 1934 Jelly Fish (not the irukandji) invaded Port Phillip Bay in: "such vast numbers as seriously to inconvenience bathers. Two years ago nets were used in beach bathing pools on Melbourne beaches to clear the water." Look out Melbourne for its seems "the invasion occurs", "Nearly ever year about the middle of February"

Who could forget the Trinity Bay Jelly Fish invasion of 1952? Trinity Beach Jelly-Fish Invasion
"For the last week the sea sklrting Trinity Beach has been thickly studded with jelly-fish of all-types. At least six different varieties of these horrible looking creatures have been counted, specimen weighed 14 lb. The sight of them floating in the water or left stranded along the water line has made swimming most unpopular."

Or Lakes Entrance in April of the same year? Invasion of Jelly Fish At Lakes Entrance
"At Lakes Entrance Fishermen report an invasion of jelly fish to Lakes King and Victoria."

Blubberous jelly invasion at Newcastle in 1932:
"A jelly fish invasion on a scale unprecedented in the history of Newcastle beach made surfing practically impossible after mid-day on Friday. Lunchtime surfers walked down to the water's edge, watched the glistening mass of blubber, which littered the beach, and went back to the pavilion to have a shower."

The 1955 Port Phillip Bay  jelly "catastrophe": Catastrophe in bay feared
"Unless nature steps In with a strong northerly blow to send the dinoflagellates (fish-killing "jelly") out of the bay, fishing will take at least five years to recover."
"Millions of young, inch-long fish were also being killed, with sand worms, crags, and many types, of shell fish." 

Cronulla, March 1939:  Many Rescues in Surf
"Lifesavers effected many rescues in big seas on metropolitan beaches yesterday. Their task was made more hazardous by the invasion of armies of"blue-bottles" and jelly-fish."

Also in 1939 Britain invaded, not by Germans by Jelly Fish!: BRITAIN INVADED-BY JELLYFISH.
"Great Britain is being Invaded by a plague of millions of jellyfish, causing fishermen to stay in port, swimmers to swim inshore, and giving' marine scientists a headache."

The Jelly fish so common in 1936 it even rained jelly fish..."During a shower of rain at Frankston, near Melbourne, clouds, of little brownish creatures fell from the sky and covered the streets.The little creatures were jellyfish, about half an inch long and a quarter of an inch wide."

In 1937 they even caused a blackout! JELLYFISH CAUSE BLACKOUT IN BRISBANE. You'd have thought someone might have done something about it seeing it happened in 1931! Jellyfish Stop Generator. Some lessons never learnt (at which point some recent flooding comes to mind).

And in 1907 these FISHERMEN'S ENEMIES arrived in Portland Bill (UK) in "Plague" proportions. Perhaps descendents of the great Scrabster bay plague of 1886?

In 2012 ABC report three people being stung. In 1952 it was: "a daily average of 10 sufferers."

In regard to the numbers it seems other experts are saying otherwise. Not that ABC thought to ask them!
Jellyfish population booming worldwide; or is it?
Study: No Evidence Of Increasing Jellyfish Population Over Last Two Centuries

In regard to the cause, seems some experts agree it is due to something other than "over fishing, climate change pollution too much fertiliser and too much sewage" : Jellyfish experts show increased blooms are a consequence of periodic global fluctuations.
The key finding of the study shows global jellyfish populations undergo concurrent fluctuations with successive decadal periods of rise and fall, including a rising phase in the 1990s and early 2000s that has contributed to the current perception of a global increase in jellyfish abundance. The previous period of high jellyfish numbers during the 1970s went unnoticed due to limited research on jellyfish at the time, less awareness of global-scale problems and a lower capacity for information sharing (e.g. no Internet).

Happy new year

A belated happy new year!

For the blog this year brings fewer posts as more important matters take precedence. As such we are likely to miss many of ABC's mistakes, misrepresentations and biased reporting but we hope to score a few points over the next 12 months.

This is of course made difficult as ABC's critical audience is forced to play with one hand tied behind its back and both eyes blindfolded as ABC's complaints department is not subject to independent oversight and the organisation continues to hide behind its FOI exception. Who knew the ABC would use 1984 as an operating manual?

Here are some wobbly numbers to bring in the New Year.