Jellyfish Studies

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(HOST) Commentator Ruth Page has been reading about current studies of jellyfish – and remembering childhood vacations at the beach.

(PAGE) For many years my family spent most or all of the summer at the seashore in southern New Jersey. At this time of year, I find myself remembering those lovely summers, when we walked on a lonely beach for miles, getting familiar with all the things the tides wash up. Among the creatures I used to fear, dead on shore but still alive to be met in the gullies and the ocean, were the jellyfish, because I knew they could sting if they touched you.

These ocean floaters don’t look very impressive – even the big ones look like – well, like whitish jelly. We could see them jetting water out of their back ends and shooting forward, and we knew from school that for "every action there is an equal and opposite reaction." So what?

The answer is, in their 550 million or so years of evolution these weird creatures did more than just develop stinging tentacles for protection. Those that paddle about could use ocean currents to improve their speed. The jet set developed ways also of using water currents to improve their speed. Jet WITH the ocean current and you get a nice boost with no effort.

Might wind currents be used in imitation of water currents, to harness energy? Scientists now wonder whether that might be possible. As we know from walking on streets that thread between long rows of high-rise buildings, quite a strong wind current can develop. The powerful wind that builds on such streets changes direction as walls and corners affect it, and the long streets guide it about. If science can find a way to copy that kind of adaptability to air currents, it could help us to save energy, and THAT would certainly be highly useful.

According to Science News, the National Science Foundation is funding one such study of the jellies. Jellies have had a long time to learn their ocean-going skills. They’re part of the family of Cnidarians, which includes corals, anemones and other sea creatures with stinging barbs that contain a poison. Anyone who has been badly stung by a jellyfish quickly understands that those wavering strips of jelly, innocent-looking as the fringes hanging from Victorian lampshades, can really hurt.

Ancient mature jellies started as larvae; some soon became little lumps in the current. But some ancient ancestors produced buds that broke off and floated away. That led to evolution of the forebears of today’s widely varied species of jellyfish.

Now, maybe they can teach us something new – how to harness wind energy in cities, with no need for windmills.

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