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On Jellyfish Blooms and the Future of the Ocean

With a Foreword by Sylvia Earle


On Jellyfish Blooms and the Future of the Ocean

With a Foreword by Sylvia Earle
Our oceans are becoming increasingly inhospitable to life—growing toxicity and rising temperatures coupled with overfishing have led many marine species to the brink of collapse. And yet there is one creature that is thriving in this seasick environment: the beautiful, dangerous, and now incredibly numerous jellyfish. As foremost jellyfish expert Lisa-ann Gershwin describes in Stung!, the jellyfish population bloom is highly indicative of the tragic state of the world’s ocean waters, while also revealing the incredible tenacity of these remarkable creatures.
Recent documentaries about swarms of giant jellyfish invading Japanese fishing grounds and summertime headlines about armadas of stinging jellyfish in the Mediterranean and Chesapeake are only the beginning—jellyfish are truly taking over the oceans. Despite their often dazzling appearance, jellyfish are simple creatures with simple needs: namely, fewer predators and competitors, warmer waters to encourage rapid growth, and more places for their larvae to settle and grow. In general, oceans that are less favorable to fish are more favorable to jellyfish, and these are the very conditions that we are creating through mechanized trawling, habitat degradation, coastal construction, pollution, and climate change.
Despite their role as harbingers of marine destruction, jellyfish are truly enthralling creatures in their own right, and in Stung!, Gershwin tells stories of jellyfish both attractive and deadly while illuminating many interesting and unusual facts about their behaviors and environmental adaptations. She takes readers back to the Proterozoic era, when jellyfish were the top predator in the marine ecosystem—at a time when there were no fish, no mammals, and no turtles; and she explores the role jellies have as middlemen of destruction, moving swiftly into vulnerable ecosystems. The story of the jellyfish, as Gershwin makes clear, is also the story of the world’s oceans, and Stung! provides a unique and urgent look at their inseparable histories—and future.

456 pages | 16 color plates, 1 halftone, 4 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2013

Biological Sciences: Ecology, Natural History


“A comprehensive summary of the irresistible rise of an arguably unstoppable creature.”


“Gershwin is a scientist who can write.  She is a scientist, a conservationist, a public conscience, and a prophet.  ‘Prophet’ is a mantle which nobody dons willingly because part of the definition of ’prophet’ is that nobody listens to the warning until it is too late. It is probably not too late yet.  So read Stung!. Then start making noise.”


“Vivid, lively, and enthralling! The world of jellyfish is brought alive as you never imagined it could be by Lisa-ann Gershwin in this engaging, gripping, and often funny book. Stung! is an enthusiastic guide to the extraordinary story of jellyfish, a group that dominated the world oceans of half a billion years ago, and in present form, may come to do so again if we don’t curb the rising tide of human damage to the sea.”

Callum Roberts, author of The Ocean of Life

“Reading this book should inspire heightened respect for these typically translucent creatures, some notable for their sophisticated stinging apparatus, some for their rainbow-colored bands of iridescent cilia, some for their ability to flash, sparkle or glow with their own living light—all, in a sense, ‘living fossils,’ considering their ancient lineage. . . . By picking out jellyfish and telling their stories, Lisa-ann Gershwin masterfully shows how they and we are hitched together—and to everything else in the universe.”

Sylvia Earle, from the Foreword

“Read this book!  You know that the oceans are in trouble, but this is the most comprehensive and clear explanation of why.  Stung! is more than just a book about jellyfish; it is undoubtedly one of the best books detailing the stresses on our ocean ecosystems. It is a much needed and spectacular achievement.”

Paul Dayton, Scripps Institution of Oceanography

“This well-researched book is not just about jellyfish, but rather about the current and future state of the world’s oceans. Gershwin has done a superb job of summarizing all of the various indignities people have inflicted on the marine world, from pollution, overfishing, acidification, and invasive species, to the problem of eutrophication and dead zones. As she guides readers through the basics of jellyfish biology, she shows how the characteristics of these animals make them ideally suited to over stressed environments and gives examples of how they have already done just that.  . . . Highly recommended.”


“’Jellyfish populations are exploding into superabundances and exploiting these changes in ways that we could never have imagined… and in some cases driving them,’ explains biologist Gershwin in her brilliant book Stung!, a fascinating read.”


“The Australian jellyfish expert, Gershwin, tells the story of jellyfish and human plunder of the oceans in Stung!.Stung! evokes the danger of jellyfish blooms but, even more fundamentally, it is about the real stung effect of the collapsing oceans. Stung! is extremely important, well written, and well documented.”

Huffington Post

"A serious monograph disguised as a monster movie."

London Review of Books

Table of Contents

Foreword by Sylvia Earle

Part 1. Jellyfish Behaving Badly

1. At the Mercy of Jellyfish
2. Some Astonishing Ecological Impacts
3. Jellyfish Completely Out of Control

Part II. Jellyfish, Planetary Doom, and Other Trivia

4. Jellyfish: The Basics
5. Overview of Ecosystem Perturbations
6. Overfishing: A Powerful Agent of Ecosystem Change
7. Eutrophication Almost Always Leads to Jellyfish
8. Pollution Destabilizes Ecosystems
9. Biopollution: The Twelfth Plague
10. Climate Change Changes Everything

Part III. The Weeds Shall Inherit the Earth

11. The Allee Effect, Trophic Cascades, and Shifting Baselines
12. The Jellyfish Double Whammy
13. High-Energy and Low-Energy Ecosystems

Part IV. The Oceans Are Dying to Tell Us Something

14. Ocean Acidification: The “New” Problem
15. The Rise of Slime

Glossary of Terms
Some Practical Conversions

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