Jellyfish swarms a visible indicator

The Science Show on ABC ~ 27 February 2016

The rise of slime

The Science Show on ABC ~ 27 July 2013

Ground control to Major Blob

Quirks & Quarks on CBC ~ 8 June 2013

I was born in Palm Springs, California, and raised in a small town called Valley of Enchantment in the mountains outside Los Angeles. I did not finish high school, but later returned as a mature-aged student to study marine biology through the American equivalent of TAFE. I eventually earned a PhD from James Cook University in Queensland in 2005. I truly understand how life circumstance gets in the way, and I also truly get how important it is to have opportunities and second chances. 


The best evidence that I will work my tail off for every Tasmanian is my past performance. My high level of productivity throughout my scientific career has included two best-selling books and more than 60 peer reviewed scientific papers, two TEDx talks plus countless others from conference seminars to community presentations to keynote addresses, and I've discovered more than 200 new species (mostly jellyfish, plus one dolphin!). 


A Scientist with Heart

My research on jellyfish has kept me frequently in and around the salmon industry for the past 22 years. I've watched. I've paid attention. I've been horrified. Here's an excerpt from my book, Stung! On Jellyfish Blooms and the Future of the Ocean (pages 17-20: University of Chicago Press, 2013):


"Particular Issues with Salmon Farms
(Estuaries and Bays Globally, since 1997)

Jellyfish seem to really like salmon farms. Or given the damage they cause,
perhaps it would be more appropriate to say that jellyfish really don’t like
salmon farms.

New Zealand. In November 1998, a massive salmon kill occurred at Stewart
Island, off the far southeast of New Zealand’s South Island. A swarm of large
Aurelia had moved into Big Glory Bay with the tide, and within 30 minutes,
56,000 3-kilogram salmon were dead. Needless to say, the salmon farm owners
(and their insurance agents) were horrified at what seemed at the time like
a freak event.

The salmon all swim in one direction inside the circular pens, creating a
fairly strong vortex that sucks water in from the surrounding area. The Aurelia,
being passive drifters, became entrained in the vortex. Too large to pass
through the mesh, the jellyfish were pinned against the netting. As the jellyfish

struggled against the current and the netting, their mucus, which is profuse
and packed with stinging cells, was sucked into the cages. It appears that
as the salmon inhaled the mucus, it blocked the oxygen-exchange surfaces of
their gills, causing them to suffocate. The stinging cells exacerbated the problem
by alarming the salmon, causing them to breathe faster, thereby serving
to suffocate them faster.

Australia. Just one week after the New Zealand incident, a similar situation
occurred in the Huon Estuary in southern Tasmania. This time it was 25,000
harvest-ready salmon. While these Aurelia were smaller and able to penetrate
the mesh cages, the mechanism, speed, and outcome were like déjà vu.

Since these two events in 1998, both regions have had almost annually recurring
Aurelia swarms vexing the salmon. Most recently, the New Zealand
farm lost another 2,000 salmon in November 2010.

Besides the mass losses at the time of each incident, many fish die in the
days that follow as a result of their injuries, and fish that survive these episodes
often fail to grow efficiently ( J. Handlinger, personal communication).

Norway. In November–December 1997, a mass occurrence of the very large
and very stingy siphonophore Apolemia uvaria invaded coastal and off shore
waters from western Sweden to northern Norway. This colonial species
can grow to 30 meters (100 feet) long, looking somewhat like a long feather
boa. For about six weeks, salmon farms were impacted by high rates of stock
mortality and morbidity due to stinging lesions on the bodies and gills of the
salmon. Previous mass fish-kill problems with no fewer than 5 other species of
jellyfish, including comb jellies, which do not sting, were also reported (Båmstedt
et al. 1998).

Chile. So too, Chilean salmon farms have been plagued by jellyfish blooms and
algal blooms, incurring huge economic losses (Carvajal 2002). In March 2002,
one salmon farm in the Quemchi area of southern Chile lost about 120,000
fish, while another lost about 45,000, both due to jellyfish “attacks.” Many
salmon farmers believe that jellyfish are an omen of the arrival of El Niño.

Ireland. More recently, in November 2007, a massive swarm of Pelagia
, the so-called mauve stinger or pink meanie, wiped out a salmon
farm in Northern Ireland. The densely packed swarm occupied an estimated
26 square kilometers (10 square miles) and was 10 meters (35 feet) deep. All
100,000 fish at the farm, worth $2 million, were killed. The following week, a
separate farm owned by the same company was wiped out by the same jellyfish

swarm. All told, about 250,000 salmon were killed (Doyle et al. 2008).

Scotland. There was even a case of a seemingly innocuous hydrozoan causing
a similar problem. In August 1984, the dime-sized, so-called water-jelly
Phialella quadrata swarmed around ten salmon cages at a farm in Scotland.
Over 4 days, about 1,500 fish died from “hypersensitivity to the jellyfish
toxin” (Bruno and Ellis 1985).

In the Phialella incident, it was noted that the lion’s mane jellyfish Cyanea
was also implicated in earlier mortalities of farmed salmon. The
lion’s mane is well known for its stinging abilities, having featured as the murder
weapon in Sherlock Holmes’s Adventure of the Lion’s Mane.

In August 2002, nearly 1 million salmon were killed at 2 Scottish farms by
Solmaris, a tiny hydromedusa. Another company lost 400 tons of salmon that
were fully grown and ready for market.

A Scottish salmon industry protest group newsletter, the Salmon Farm
Monitor, reported the following for the period 1999–2002 in Scotland alone:
• More than 4.4 million farm salmon died in their cages in ninety separate
incidents, 50 percent of deaths were caused by “algal blooms,” 45 percent
by “jellyfish” and 5 percent by “plankton” (which could be algal blooms
or jellyfish).
• In the period 1999–2002, mass mortality incidents increased more than
sixfold (12 to 78), while in the same period fish deaths increased eighteenfold,
from just over 240,000 to over 4 million.
• Average mortality per incident rose from just over 1,000 dead fish in
2000, to 44,000 in 2001, to 70,000 in 2002.
While mass mortalities from suffocation and toxic overload are grist for
the media mill, a seemingly smaller problem with the capacity to become far
bigger appears to be brewing. Hydroids are the most prevalent organism to
foul salmon cages (see plate 4), and when they are cleaned off , they break into
zillions of tiny fragments, each of which carries both a damaging sting and the
capacity to settle and start a whole new colony nearby (Guenther, Misimi, and
Sunde 2010).

Many more problems with jellyfish and fish farming operations have occurred
around the world. As we become more reliant on mariculture and as
jellyfish become more abundant, it is fair to say that we can expect to see increasing
problems where the two meet. It may be that our most prime aqua -
culture areas will soon become thickets of hydroids and chowders of jellyfish.

In addition to the acute problems of toxicity and of suffocation by mucus secretions,
jellyfish have also been linked to bacterial diseases in farmed salmon.
It appears that small jellyfi sh, such as the diminutive and “harmless” Phialella
can carry large numbers of a type of bacteria that can be transferred
to fish gills during stinging (Ferguson et al. 2010). It is thought that the
centimeter-wide jellyfish easily pass through the cage mesh and into fishes’
mouths during respiration, initially causing a mild stinging that is then exacerbated
by the transferred bacteria. So while these smaller species are less likely
to cause mass mortality within minutes, by acting as vectors of disease they
can be responsible for high mortality rates through slower illness.

Recently, the larger, more virulent Pelagia noctiluca has been shown to carry
the same bacteria (Delannoy et al. 2011). As jellyfish become fragmented by
contact with the nets, small pieces are able to penetrate the mesh and thus
sting the fish; it is thought that the bacteria aggravate the sting lesions.

The underlying causes of jellyfish blooms that vex salmon farms are complicated,
and are likely to be the result of two quite different phenomena.

First, the extra nutrients from salmon waste and uneaten food are probably
driving ecosystem changes that favor jellyfish blooms and algal blooms. On
the west coast of Canada, “The 49,600 tonnes of farmed salmon produced
in British Columbia in 2000 contributed as much nitrogen as the untreated
sewage from 682,000 people, and as much phosphorous as the sewage from
216,000 people” (Tirado 2008, 19). The situation is even worse in Puget
Sound, where 4 of about 12 salmon netpens in the state discharged 93 percent
as much “total suspended solids” into the sound as did the sewage treatment
plant serving more than a million people in the city of Seattle (Goldburg, Elliott,
and Naylor 2001). In extreme cases, dead zones develop under salmon
pens, surrounded by a ring of decreased animal diversity extending up to
150 meters (500 feet). This process, called “eutrophication”—or pollution
through excessive fertilization—is the subject of chapter 7.

Second, inshore water movement patterns are probably responsible for
the relatively high number of fish kills in salmon farms. Jellyfish drift with
currents as a normal part of their lifestyle. As currents move in and around
embayments, it is inevitable that jellyfish will pass by or through those with
salmon farms. However, the strong vortex effect created by the salmon swimming
at the same speed and in the same direction in their cages is often
enough to pull the current toward them. Most jellyfish are unable to fight
even the slightest current, so they become entrained in the flow toward the
salmon. Furthermore, there is increasing discussion about the salmon farms
also creating extra structures for the jellyfish larvae to settle and grow on, both
with the salmon cages and with the dead zones caused by the accumulated
waste below. These two issues are explored in more detail later.

Regardless of the cause, one things seems clear: the problem is getting
worse, as summed up by Emily Baxter of University College Cork in Ireland
and her colleagues (2011, 1): “With aquaculture predicted to expand worldwide
and evidence suggesting that jellyfish populations are increasing in some
areas, this threat to aquaculture is of rising concern as significant losses due to
jellyfish could be expected to increase in the future.”"





I’m not what you’d call normal. I have autism. I’m also highly functional and successful. I worked as a research scientist at CSIRO for more than seven years, and I was the head of science at the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery in Launceston. I also spent 18 months living in Tasmania’s homeless shelter system, and now I own my own home. I ask for neither your sympathy nor a pat on the back: I ask for your vote.


It might seem unusual at first blush to even think of putting someone in Parliament who has been diagnosed with a mental illness, has a disability, and has lived in a series of homeless shelters. But who better to understand why reforms to these systems are so urgent? I will also bring to Parliament my skills learned as a research scientist, such as keen ability to find relevant information, distill it down into its most important elements, and communicate with accuracy and integrity. 



Scientific American

   Jellyfish Savant ~ 25 Feb 2014

Other major interviews that you may enjoy...

From Bazinga to Shiraz

   with Richard Fidler on Conversations, ABC Radio National

You Can't Ask That

   Autism episode, 6 May 2020, ABC TV

The Drum

   ABC TV ~ 15 Oct 2020 ~ 8 Dec 2020 ~ 10 Feb 2021

Some fun things I've done...

TEDx Melbourne

Jellyfish: In dangerous bloom, December 2013

TEDx Dublin

Perilous bloom -- rise of the jellyfish, September 2014

Harvard Explores the Trouble with Jellyfish

Art-Science Exhibition at Le Laboratoire, Cambridge, Massachussetts, September 2015 to January 2016

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