MURRELLS INLET, S.C. (WBTW) — A huge, invasive species of jellyfish was spotted off the coast of South Carolina in Murrells Inlet, according to the state’s Department of Natural Resources.
Doctor Peter Kingsley-Smith is the Senior Marine Biologist at SCDNR. He says, while the species is native to the Pacific Ocean, it has been seen in our area before.
“We don’t see it regularly off the east coast, but we started to see it sort of in 2017 when we had a large swarm,” Kingsley-Smith said.
The Australian Spotted Jellyfish can form “‘blooms that gobble up fish and shellfish eggs and damage boats and fishing gear,” the SCDNR said. A member of the public recently spotted one in Murrells Inlet, and other recent sightings were made in North Carolina.
Mike Walker is a park ranger at Huntington Beach State Park.
“The biggest concern with this species is, they do feed on the platonic egg of fish and shellfish that are commercially valuable,” he explained. “They do have a tendency to clog shrimp trawling nets. Only time will tell if we’re going to see bigger population blooms, but that is why it’s especially important to monitor.”
Walker says visitors there have seen several Australian Spotted Jellyfish recently.
“I had never seen one before until maybe just over a week ago when a visitor came into the nature center asking about them,” Walker said. “They were showing some photos of some they had seen. I think they saw three that had washed up.”
SCDNR said the jellyfish can reach the size of a beach ball and can easily be identified by its spotted appearance.
Kingsley-Smith says the species was most likely brought to the Carolina coast by the hull of a ship or a similar platform.
“On the hull of ships or platform or structures that are being moved around is probably the most likely platform for this species to be introduced.”
An invasive species is one that is not native to a particular area and causes a negative economic impact, impacts human health or the new habitats ecology.
Kingsley-Smith says for our area to experience an impact like that, it would take a larger population of the Australian Spotted Jellyfish and while the species has been observed in our area recently, he says it is not time to sound the alarm.
“It’s very interesting to know that this species is currently here, but I feel as though we’re still probably at that point where we’re still seeing it, on the east coast, as episodically.”
SCDNR warned anyone spending time on the water to be on the lookout for this species and report sightings online to help federal researchers keep tabs.