The Fish Story

Clinging Jellyfish Might Be Eying LBI; When Noah’s Ark Can’t Take the Rain

Fluking Looking Small
By JAY MANN | May 29, 2019
Photo by: Jay Mann

Long Beach Island — The rare clinging jellyfish is the talk of the walk, especially if you walk in parts of Barnegat Bay. Since first being found in Jersey waters in 2016, the media has gone a bit mad over the dime- to quarter-sized hydrozoan invaders. Headlines include “Tiny Jellyfish Carrying Paralyzing Toxin Invade Jersey Shore” (nypost.com) and “Spider-like clinging jellyfish with intense stings spotted along Jersey Shore” (phillyvoice.com).

Writers describing clinging jellyfish have also gone a tad dramatic. “It resembles a piece of art glass or a flashy bling brooch you would never want to wear. Pulsing through the ocean, the clinging jellyfish has a red, orange, or violet cross on its middle, signaling danger. They trail hula-hoop skirts of 60 to 90 glass-like tentacles that uncoil sharp threads and emit painful neurotoxins,” writes Lee Roscoe in whoi.edu.

Cool read … but a bit misleading. These comely stinging jellies are not oceanic in nature and won’t be found on the ocean side. Even saying they’re at “the shore” misses the exact bayside mark.

What’s more, it’s not like clingers are out there in massive numbers. The Pacific transplants, which arrived in America in the late 1800s, are not swarmers. They seldom travel in mobs, as is the case with our unbeloved oceanside lion’s mane jellyfish.

Clinging jellies live in low population colonies, clinging to subaquatic vegetation during the day. However, a recent population count in north Barnegat Bay waters produced well over a hundred specimens in one gathering session. That’s not only startling but indicates warming Garden State bay waters – known to be rich in unwanted nutrient loads – might be ideal for fostering unnaturally fast and furious reproduction. While they’re most common from now through July, that seasonality might also be expanding hereabouts.

Should we worry here on LBI? Not at all … I’m on the clinging jellyfish case. That sounded like a rather sarcastic “oh, great” on your part. OK, so maybe poisonous things are my thing, i.e. “Oh, boy, where can I find some clinging jellyfish?!” Right now, they’re merely brushing at our upper door, needing only to cross over from bayside Island Beach State Park.

On a nighttime jelly-seeking mission last weekend, I spent a couple hours jelly seeking in the semi-vegetated bay shallows of High Bar Harbor dike, located west of Barney’s beam. By my reckoning, that manmade point could be where clingers will first arrive on LBI. Numerous sightings have been recorded just across the way (northward) at Tice’s Shoal. My wade-about produced nary a jellyfish of any ilk, despite my using a very powerful spotlight. Why night hunt? These super-stingers feed off zooplankton by wafting about after dark. What’s more, their colors ignite under bright lights.

SHOULD THEY ARRIVE: When in clinging jellyfish waters, you’re most likely to be cruelly greeted by one when traipsing atop bay vegetation, like eelgrass beds. Who does that, right? With a swollen summer population afoot, there will always be a few plodding folks idly a-wade within creature-laden bayside environs. There are also family or group seining forays, which not only tread about in the clinging jelly realm but spook them from their hold, forcing them to free flow into the upper water column.

When forced to nervously free-float, clinging jellies are cocked and loaded. They have up to 90 wafting tentacles brimming with hundreds of stinging cells, known as nematocysts. Each cell is rigged to shoot out and deliver a micro-harpoon worth of neurotoxin. Cool! I mean, how scientifically interesting.

As to bayside swimming beaches, they’re of no real appeal to clinging jellies due to their lack of vegetation.

Clammers need beware. While shellfishermen have always been open to many forms of bay bottom punishment – scars on my feet and ankles bear that out – these jellies could mean punishment is taking a toxic turn. Sharing clam beds with hyper-stinging things, able to send treaders into the ER, could lower summer clamming pressure real fast.

I’ll note here that the media bark about the clinging jellyfish’s bite might be a bit much. I’ll surely give the Portuguese man o’ war (not officially a jellyfish) the ouch edge, while clingers easily beat out the moanable itch of lion’s mane tentacles. Still, to even be in that elite class of stingers shows they’re a bona fide jelly non grata.

Chatting with a marine biologist about the “diffusion of the species” onto the Island, he noted that boat ramps might be “highly possible points of proliferation” for the clinging jellies. It is suspected that boats returning from clinger waters can transport them on the bottom of vessels, clingers that they are. That makes the Barnegat Light boat launch, one of the most popular in the state, a possible transplant point. Its adjacent channel and nearby bay bottom areas have loads of aquatic grasses. My next night spotting outing will focus there.

When in search of nasty-ass jellies, I suppose I should wear chest waders … but I’d kinda like to feel what a clinging jellyfish’s sting is all about. Uh, even upon completing that thought it didn’t sound nearly as inviting as when I first began writing it. Maybe I will pull out my waders.

As to what I’ll do if I find a load of Gonionemus vertens – I always like to sneak in scientific names having taken four needless years of Latin – I have a big glass jar at the ready. That’s apparently where they must be placed, per photos showing every one of them ever caught being displayed in showy jars. It’s some sort of clinging jellyfish thing. My first post-jarring action will be to test them under black light, to see if they glow. Oh, there’s nothing scientifically significant if they do; it would just be so cool to watch. Maybe I’ll have a blacklit clinging jellyfish party and invite Lee Roscoe.

IF STUNG?: The NJDEP offers: “The sting of the clinging jellyfish can produce severe pain and other localized symptoms. According to recent literature, if stung by this jellyfish: Apply white vinegar to the affected area to immobilize any remaining stinging cells. Rinse the area with saltwater and remove any remaining tentacle materials using gloves, a plastic card or a thick towel. Cold packs or ice can then be applied to alleviate pain. A hot compress may also be effective. If symptoms persist or pain increases instead of subsiding, seek prompt medical attention.”

WHAT’S A CUBIT?: I must semi-snarkily commiserate with the Ark Encounter resort-of-sorts in the Bible Belt region of Kentucky. The attraction offers both true believers and we’ll-visit-anything tourists a look at Noah’s Ark – transported in pieces from Mount Ararat after global warming exposed it, thusly allowing it to be sold to Kentuckians at a bargain price through a seemingly very sincere fellow named Ashkan. Hey, I said semi-snarkily. In reality … his name was Farrukh.

The Noah’s Ark rebuild cost millions to complete. Cubits do not come cheaply in this day and age. Opened in 2016, the 510-foot Old Testament attraction has been a redoubling success, drawing a flood of visitors. (Obligatory corniness moan on your part.)

While the completed mock ark might have seemed ready for hell and high water, the owners are currently suing their insurance companies for, brace yourself, recent flood damage.

In the wake of near biblical rains in 2017 and 2018 – possibly somebody upstairs isn’t overly fond of the facsimile – the resort suffered water damage in excess of $1 million. During the flood, over 25 pairs of animals escaped in the chaos. That’s not true! Do not listen to me … only the unicorns got away.

Having done my duty forwarding the irony of an ark company suing over flood damage, I must fairly note that the prime damage was not suffered by the ecosystem-saving vessel. It was the resort’s access roads that took a highly erosive hit from the heavens above, i.e. act of God. Ark owners are now wading through the legal paperwork, waiting to see if Allied World Assurance Co. Holdings of Switzerland, along with three other insurance carriers, will take the high road and pay for road damages. We can relate to this: You pay exorbitant insurance rates, but when it comes time to cover ark-park damage, it’s tougher than refinding Farrukh.

For any of you now hyped to visit Ark Encounter – check out arkencounter.com – just be ready for some spooky wax images of Noah and his wife, Jane. Oh, I know his wife was Naamah. I just can’t decide if her name is two syllables or three.

By the by, there are no live animals at the ark attraction. Those are over at nearby Popcorn Ark Zoo.

RUNDOWN: It’s tough trying to glean a fluke fishing pattern after only the first few days of the season,  so I’ll only insinuate that we’ve begun in a small way. Oh, there are plenty of flatties out there, but experts – who live for squirreling away filets of this meat fish – have recorded as high as a dozen-to-one throwback-to-keeper ratio. I had one Great Bay angler who said he lost count … with nary a single take-home. “Don’t let this be another one of those years,” he said, referencing a few years back when shorts drove flukers batty all summer long.

The LBI surf momentarily has a much higher fluke keeper rate, though you can go flattie-less for long stints.

For some inexplicable reason, I do disproportionately well fishing for fluke in the suds, likely due to my emphasis on adding extra life to my jig when it reaches within 10 feet of the beach. When within those last few feet, I concentrate on seductive jumps, or a sidearm bottom-crawl action. I rely on a conventional reel on a so-called “slow action” rod – apparently, it’s politically dicey to call it a stiff rod.

One of the better surf fluke anglers I’ve ever seen, the late, great Uncle Gus of Ship Bottom, would sometimes only flick his bait out, almost underhandedly. He felt no need to cast it way out and waste time dragging it back to the in-close hit zone. I still tend to long cast when beach fluking, thinking I might increase my flattie odds by drawing in a couple “followers” from out in deeper water. Still, it’s when I reach that trough upslope – sometimes in breaking waves – that the takes take over.

Bassing is a tiny bit off what it was, though that could be the result of a higher angler emphasis on nabbing higher-end fluke fillets. A couple cow bass came out of the LBI surf. Make sure to check Island bait shop websites for looks.

Bluefishing was fair to good – though phasing down … unless we get another school coming up from the south. Cocktail-size prevailed, with some slammers running the beachfront. The blues are also filling out on local forage.

Loads of skates; more than usual. Sand sharks (dogfish) also are taking a bite out of bait. I keep hearing sea robins are showing, but not like they used to. Not sure why that is.

Blackdrum not showing well at all, despite those amazing takes in Delaware Bay. “For me it’s been the worst spring ever,” said one LEI/Great Bay regular.

No word on weakfish. By now, we should have seen the spring rush of tiderunners and be into a wave or two of smaller sparklers. Obviously, strict one-fish bag limits (13-inch minimum) curtail targeting them, combined with the effort needed to acquire and chum grass shrimp.

jaymann@thesandpaper.net

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