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July 26, 2014

Predicting Irukandji Jellyfish Blooms

Irukandji Jellyfish inhabit the waters of Northern Australia and are particularly difficult to spot as they are only 2.5cm big. The Irukandji’s stingers are found not only on the tentacles but also on its bell, a sting from one of these jellyfish will cause Irukandji syndrome. Symptoms of the Irukandji syndrome develop minutes to hours after the sting and include vomiting, profuse sweating, headache, agitation, rapid heart rate, very high blood pressure and death in rare circumstances.

Irukandji
Above: An Irukandji jellyfish. Photo: Dr Lisa-ann Gershwin.

Irukandji Jellyfish are common in the waters of North Queensland in Australia from October to May limiting human activity in the ocean unless you are wearing a full body stinger suit. Although they only appear near coastal areas for up to a few days, predicting where and when they will turn up in a certain spot has always proved too hard, until now…

A scientist named Dr. Lisa-Ann Gershwin and her team of scientists from CSIRO have developed a Irukandji bloom forecasting system. This system can warn communities of the Irukunji Jellyfish blooms up to a week in advance.

“We know that Irukandji blooms generally co-occur with blooms of another invertebrate, called salps. We also know that upwelling, which in northern Queensland is driven by subsidence of trade winds, triggers salp blooms. Sure enough, when we investigated we found a clear connection between recorded Irukandji ‘sting days’ and days when there was little to no trade wind present.” Lisa-Ann explained in a paper published the Journal of the Royal Society, which presented her findings on the Irukandji blooms.

Irukandji beach closure
Above: Closure at Palm Cove beach during stinger season. Photo: Dr Lisa-ann Gershwin.

The test took place in Palm Cove, a beach near Cairns where the southeast trade winds are the most dominant.  These trade winds cause a net down welling pressure that pushes the water downward and out to sea. However, when these winds begin to ease in the summer months, an upwelling occurs. It is these upwellings that Lisa-ann and her team believe transport Irukandji to the top of the water – and on then to shore.

Although Lisa-Ann reminds us that these research findings are just the first step and are not a miracle solution for avoiding Irukandji Jellyfish.

Though it does seem this research couldn’t come soon enough. With studies proving there is a global rise in water temperature the Irukandji Jellyfish has slowly started to inch further south. The effect of the jellyfish has a big affect on the local economies that are based around the Irukandji habitats, with the closures of beaches and certain businesses at certain times of year.

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