Jellyfish have been swimming in our oceans for well over half a billion years, longer than any other animal that lives on the planet. They make a venom so toxic it can kill a human in three minutes. Their sting--microscopic spears that pierce with five million times the acceleration of gravity--is the fastest known motion in the animal kingdom. Made of roughly 95 percent water, some jellies are barely perceptible virtuosos of disguise, while others glow with a luminescence that has revolutionized biotechnology. Yet until recently, jellyfish were largely ignored by science, and they remain among the most poorly understood of ocean dwellers. More than a decade ago, Juli Berwald left a career in ocean science to raise a family in landlocked Austin, Texas, but jellyfish drew her back to the sea. Recent, massive blooms of billions of jellyfish have clogged power plants, decimated fisheries, and caused millions of dollars of damage. Driven by questions about how overfishing, coastal development, and climate change were contributing to a jellyfish population explosion, Juli embarked on a scientific odyssey. She traveled the globe to meet the biologists who devote their careers to jellies, hitched rides on Japanese fishing boats to see giant jellyfish in the wild, raised jellyfish in her dining room, and throughout it all marveled at the complexity of these alluring and ominous biological wonders. Gracefully blending personal memoir with crystal-clear distillations of science, Spineless is the story of how Juli learned to navigate and ultimately embrace her ambition, her curiosity, and her passion for the natural world. She discovers that jellyfish science is more than just a quest for answers. It's a call to realize our collective responsibility for the planet we share.
- ISBN-13: 9780735211261
- ISBN-10: 0735211264
- Publisher: Riverhead Books
- Publish Date: November 2017
- Page Count: 352
- Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.2 x 1.4 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.19 pounds
The joys of jellyfish
Juli Berwald fell in love with the ocean during her junior year abroad in Israel, when, on a whim, she signed up for a weeklong marine biology course, snorkeling amid the coral reefs of the Red Sea. “It was as if I were Dorothy stepping into Oz,” she writes, remembering how her “world erupted in a kaleidoscope of colors, shapes, and textures.” She went on to receive a Ph.D. in ocean science, eventually becoming a science textbook writer.
Later, as a mother of two living in landlocked Austin, Texas, she “stumbled” upon jellyfish while working on a project with a National Geographic photographer. She became obsessed with the creatures, realizing that “to research jellyfish is not just to look at the creature unfamiliar and bizarre to most, but to study the planet and our place in it.”
Berwald shares her “crazy jellyfish adventure” in the fascinating Spineless. Reminiscent of Hope Jahren’s Lab Girl, Spineless reveals not only an around-the-world exploration of emerging science but also Berwald’s evolution as a science writer, learning to “write a book that matters,” as one jellyfish expert challenged her.
Are a series of jellyfish blooms simply a natural cycle, or are they a dire indication of global warming and increased ocean acidification? The answer, it turns out, is complicated. What’s more, jellyfish are both friend and foe—useful as food and possibly in medicine and engineering, but also the source of stings and a cause of major power plant-disrupting clogs.
As Berwald snorkels amid a jellyfish bloom in the Bay of Haifa, she watches a research photographer cavort with jellyfish like a dolphin. Readers can’t help but be swept away with enthusiasm as the researcher surfaces to say, “I love them so much. They’re like dancers.”
Full of humor and intrigue, Spineless is a seaworthy saga brimming with information about not only jellyfish but also about the health and future of the oceans and our planet.