While fishing in Bogue Sound near Atlantic Beach this summer, I saw some jellyfish I had never seen before. They were about the size of a large saucer, kind of clear-colored and had spots. Any idea what they were?

October 2007

Some scientists think the Australian spotted jellyfish was most likely transported into area waters in the polyp stage on the hull of a ship. (Photo by Pat McNeese)

Some scientists think the Australian spotted jellyfish was most likely transported into area waters in the polyp stage on the hull of a ship.

From your description, we can be pretty sure it was the Australian spotted jellyfish, Phyllorhiza punctata, a fairly new jellyfish to our waters. Sightings of these jellies, primarily in the sounds, began coming in during summer 2006.

The jelly’s white, semi-transparent to opaque bell sports white spots, and its frilly oral arms extend beneath the bell. Sizes range from the size of a fist to a basketball. The jelly appears to be harmless to humans, having little if any sting.

Considered an invasive species, a few of these jellyfish were seen in our waters in summer 2006, but sightings increased noticeably in summer 2007.

In 2000 this jelly began causing problems in Louisiana, when its numbers increased in the Gulf of Mexico and began fouling fishing gear and boat propellers. Although not harmful to humans, the jelly eats large amounts of fish larvae and eggs and seems to be thriving in Atlantic and Gulf waters. Dr. Monty Graham of Alabama’s Dauphin Island Sea Lab has been researching the jellies to determine their origin and pathways of introduction.

This species is particularly interesting because it is considered invasive, meaning it is a species not native to the region. In fact, the Australian jelly is from a family that’s not even native to the Atlantic Basin.

Like many other non-native species, the jelly may potentially create ecological problems; however, in general we know very little about jellyfish as natural members of coastal ecosystems. This makes it difficult to develop strategies. The jury will be out on the Australian spotted jellyfish for a while yet.