Another kind of flotilla is making its way by sea toward Israel, this time from Gaza, and not even a blockade or an elite unit can stop it: the seasonal swarm, or smack, of jellyfish, which has been reported in our area for the past two days. Unfortunately for bathers, it has arrived two weeks earlier than last year and will be with us until summer’s end.
On Tuesday, the first reports of the smack of jellyfish, reached Prof. Bella Galil of the Israel Oceanographic and Limnological Research Institute in Haifa. They came from fishermen, an Environmental Protection Ministry inspector and one of her colleagues.
“The swarm is in the area of Ashdod and Ashkelon, about 2.5 kilometers from the beach, and a few jellyfish have been seen on the beach itself," Galil said. Scientists are not sure why the smack has arrived two weeks earlier than last year, and a month earlier than in previous years, Galil said.
One theory for the early arrival of the stinging invertebrates is that conditions have become quite comfy for them in the eastern Mediterranean; some of them may even remain here over the winter. The extent of fishing in this area has depleted the fish that would otherwise compete with the jellyfish for food. According to Galil, there is a marked trend toward a takeover of the Mediterranean by various species of jellyfish and similar creatures.
The species of jellyfish that arrive off Israel’s coast originates in the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea and swims up the Suez Canal. They secrete cells that contain a substance that burns and stings the skin, making them a major nuisance off of bathing beaches.
Galil says they also cause damage by blocking openings at power stations and desalination facilities and get caught up in fishing nets.
The jellyfish are now in the midst of their mating season and therefore are swimming in dense smacks, which increases their reproductive success, as it depends on the females excreting eggs and the males their sperm in close to each other.
At its height, the smack of jellyfish will reach Haifa in the north and Gaza in the south. It will probably consist of millions of individuals, some of which will be swept by currents toward the beach. People can report jellyfish sightings on the website of the National Institute of Oceanography: (www.ocean.org.il.)
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