🌊 The NJ DEP is warning swimmers about clinging jellyfish in bays and estuaries

🌊 Clinging jellyfish are small but they can pack a powerful, painful sting

🌊 If you see clinging jellyfish, the DEP needs your help for research

Be aware of the clinging jellyfish.

That is the warning from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. The small jellyfish, typically found in the bay and estuarine waters of the state is capable of inflicting an extremely painful sting.

The DEP continues to monitor populations, recently using a new testing technique that improves early detection through environmental DNA.

“Fortunately, populations of clinging jellyfish and their distribution have been largely stable since the species was first confirmed in New Jersey in 2016,” said DEP Commissioner Shawn LaTourette.

But, since the clinging jellyfish can pack a powerful sting, the public needs to be vigilant and take precautions when swimming in coastal bays and rivers. It’s in these waters that the jellyfish, which range in size from a dime to a quarter like to attach themselves to algae or marine vegetation such as eel grass.

Adult clinging jellyfish are marked by a distinctive reddish-orange to yellowish cross within their bodies.

It is highly unlikely for clinging jellyfish to be found in ocean waters or beaches in New Jersey.

Clinging jellyfish (NJ DEP)
Clinging jellyfish (NJ DEP)

Where did clinging jellyfish come from?

Clinging jellyfish, which were first confirmed in New Jersey in 2016, are native to the Pacific Ocean. They were likely transported to the East Coast in ballast water from ships or being attached to ships’ hulls, perhaps as early as the late 1800s in New England, according to the DEP. The non-native species can be from Maine to New Jersey.

What parts of New Jersey are they typically found?

In New Jersey, clinging jellyfish populations have been found in several locations including the Metedeconk River, the bayside of Island Beach State Park, the Shrewsbury River, a salt pond in North Wildwood located next to Hereford Inlet Lighthouse, Lower Township Thorofare, and the Cape may National Wildlife Refuge

Researching clinging jellyfish (NJ DEP)
Researching clinging jellyfish (NJ DEP)

How long do the clinging jellyfish stick around?

The clinging jellyfish are found from mid-May to late July, or until bay water temperatures reach or exceed 82 degrees.

How do you minimize your chances of an encounter?

The DEP urges swimmers to avoid wading in areas where the jellyfish have been found.
To reduce the risk of being stung, swimmers should wear waders and long-sleeved clothing in these waters.

Testing for Clinging Jellyfish
(Dr. Paul Bologna)

What do you do if you’re stung by a clinging jellyfish?

Reactions to stings can vary from person to person. But, typically, those who are stung by clinging jellyfish will experience an initial burning sensation.

Rinse the area with saltwater and remove any remaining tentacles using gloves, a plastic card, or a thick towel.

How are the clinging jellyfish being monitored in New Jersey?

“Clinging jellyfish are small, but they can produce severe pain in people who are stung in the shallow bays of New Jersey and New England. Since we can’t be everywhere, the public is often our best source of information,” said Dr. Paul Bologna, a Montclair State University marine biologist.

Also, a recent study commissioned by the DEP in collaboration with Rutgers University’s Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Natural Resources aims to make it easier to detect the location and monitor the number of various species of cnidarians.
This is a group of animals equipped with stinging cells that include clinging jellyfish.

Environmental DNA allows researchers to detect these invasive species at much lower numbers than regular sampling methods. That allows them to quickly address the issues faced by those who swim in New Jersey’s coastal waters, said Anthony Vastano, a Rutgers lab researcher.

“It’s an amazing technology that, beyond detecting invasive species, has the potential to quickly characterize the entire cnidarian community by simply collecting a bottle of water, filtering it down, and analyzing the sample back at the lab,” he said.

Clinging jellyfish
Clinging jellyfish (NJ DEP)

This is already done with fish but by adding cnidarians to the portfolio, it gives researchers a clearer picture of how the aquatic community responds to the changing environment.

In addition to seasonal monitoring and tracking the species’ presence, researchers also study their feeding and reproductive behaviors and water chemistry conditions.

The DEP also relies on reports from the public to help track the clinging jellyfish populations. If you see them, don’t touch them. Simply take a photo and send GPS coordinates to the DEP.

The public can find confirmed clinging jellyfish locations on the NJ Clinging Jellyfish Interactive Map.

More information on clinging jellyfish and other jellyfish species can be found at New Jersey Jellyfish Information.

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