Originally published May 20, 2013 at 10:16 a.m., updated May 20, 2013 at 5:19 p.m.
Lisa-ann Gerswhin, Ph.D. is director of the Australian Marine Stinger Advisory Services and author of "Stung! - On Jellyfish Blooms and the Future of the Ocean"
Jellyfish stings are a regular occurrence during summers in San Diego. On one Sunday last July, lifeguards in Encinitas reported Black Sea Nettle Jellyfish, and Purple Stripe Jellyfish, stung more than 130 swimmers.
The gelatinous creatures, which have been around for more than 500 million years, are more than just a nuisance. In her new book, "Stung! - On Jellyfish Blooms and the Future of the Ocean," researcher Lisa-ann Gershwin compares jellyfish to an angel of death whose presence in the ocean is causing destruction, death and disruption.
Gershwin says jellyfish are displacing penguins in Antarctica, "The krill eat the phytoplankton on the underside of the edges of the sea ice so, as the sea ice cover melts...the edge is getting smaller, so there is less available feeding grounds for the krill but jellyfish called Salps, a certain type of jellyfish, are on the increase as the krill are decreasing, and we're seeing a flip to this gelatinous ecosystem and the Penguins eat krill, not jellyfish."
"We will get to a point where jellyfish are causing so many problems," Gershwin says. "
She says humans are contributing to the problem, fishing out the jelly's natural predators. And, Gershwin says, high levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are causing the ocean's acidity levels to rise, creating inhospitable conditions for shellfish and coral reefs, leaving jellyfish the "last man standing."
Gershwin says when she first started writing, 'Stung!' she didn't realize how seriously we have damaged our ecosystems.
She says "I was writing the book and reading up on all these things that I've known about for a long time, pollution, overfishing, introduced species, and I know about these, I'm a marine biologist, have been for many years but it was as I was reading up on them in the latest literature that I started realizing, oh my God, this is really serious. "
Gerswhin will be at Birch Aquarium at Scripps tonight at 6:30 for a public lecture and book signing about the proliferation of jellies in the ocean.