By ARDEN BASTIA Lionn's mane jellyfish have eerily floated their way into Rhode Island waters for another summer, and with it, fascination from the state's residents. One Warwick local, Dave Chartier, snapped a picture of a lion's mane in the waters of
Lionn’s mane jellyfish have eerily floated their way into Rhode Island waters for another summer, and with it, fascination from the state’s residents.
One Warwick local, Dave Chartier, snapped a picture of a lion’s mane in the waters of Apponaug Cove where it looked shockingly similar to the super moon that he photographed from Conimicut Point. Both share an eerie glow as they float in the dark, the pink slivers of tentacles a reminder of the poisonous danger lurking beneath the waters.
According to David Prescott, the South County Coastkeeper at Save the Bay, there is an increase in lion’s mane jellyfish in the waters of Rhode Island.
Prescott has a background in marine biology and environmental chemistry, both of which he studied at Roger Williams University. His wife, Bridget Prescott, is the Director of education for Save the Bay. A New England native, Prescott was born and raised on the North Shore of Massachusetts, but has lived in Rhode Island for nearly half his life.
“Whether it’s a certain time of the year where we get a big explosion of fish or a change in weather, I think the same is true with anytime you see any marine creature in large numbers,” said Prescott in an interview Monday. “People might not be as educated to the fact that this is becoming more and more of a common occurrence.”
Prescott has worked with Save the Bay for over 20 years, and for the last 14 years, has been the South County Coastkeeper out of Westerly. Prescott works alongside the South County community to educate, protect, restore, and provide stewardship for the state’s coastline. Prior to becoming a coastkeeper, he served 6 years in the Save the Bay education department where he developed Bay-wide programming for the shoreline and the classroom.
Locals have contacted Save the Bay with both concerns and curious calls about lion’s mane jellyfish, which is how Prescott became involved with the sea creature.
Lion’s mane jellyfish are common in the northern Atlantic and Pacific Oceans where the waters are cooler. The jellyfish frequent the waters of Japan, Norway, and Great Britain in addition to the Ocean State.
The jellyfish are weak swimmers relying on ocean tides and currents when migrating. This is why Rhode Islanders may see the jellyfish washing ashore in little coves like Apponaug. Prescott explained that the jellyfish will float along with the currents, and often get stuck in coves until they wash upon shore.
“They only live for about 12 months,” explained Prescott, “and towards the end of their life cycle, they start to more towards more enclosed waters rather than out into the open ocean.”
Because of April’s full moon, and a super moon at that, the tides statewide were particularly high. Prescott said that this is another indicator as to why the creatures may be washing up in different locations and farther up on shore.
This is prime breeding time for the jellyfish, which reproduce from March to May. Lion’s mane jellyfish will float in Rhode Island waters throughout the summer; however, they have been spotted in Narragansett Bay as early as February and as late as fall.
“We’re not really sure why they’re coming in, in much bigger numbers,” said Prescott. “It could be that over the past couple of years, and especially during the pandemic, we have a lot more people getting out so they’re seeing more wildlife like jellyfish.”
Prescott has personally noticed an increase in lion’s mane jellyfish in the state, and suggests that the increased population is due to warmer waters and changing weather patterns.
The jellyfish are attracted the Rhode Island waters because of the steady food source and lack of predators. The lion’s mane jellyfish typically eat “anything they can swim up to and bring into their mouths with their tentacles,” like small fish, fish larvae, small crustaceans, or other, smaller jellyfish, said Prescott. In turn, the jellyfish are prey to leatherback sea turtles and ocean sunfish, neither of which are native to Rhode Island.
“I think they’re beautiful,” said Prescott. “I mean, they really are, especially with the colors they have and whatnot.”
Lion’s mane jellyfish can range in hue from bright orange and yellow, to deep purple and pink. The darker the color of the jellyfish, the larger and older it usually is.
The bells of the jellyfish, the soft, rounded part of the creature, can reach up to 18 inches across, while their thousands of tentacles have reached lengths of anywhere between 6 and 120 feet, rivaling the length of a blue whale, which is about 80 feet.
“These are marine animals, and like with any animal or organism, we want to treat it with respect. This is their home, too. If they’re in an area where you’re swimming, move down the shore 20, 40, 100 feet,” he said.
“Something I saw last summer definitely has to do with a lack of education,” said Prescott, who described witnessing kids throw rocks at and attempt to dissect a washed ashore jellyfish.
Prescott encourages beachgoers to be aware of their surroundings, and give the jellyfish a wide berth.
While a lion’s mane jellyfish may have been the notorious killer in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes novel, “The Adventure of the Lion’s Mane”, their stings aren’t fatal to humans and there are no documented jellyfish-related deaths.
“They do pack a bit of a whollop,” said Prescott, who has had his fair share of jellyfish stings. While he didn’t explicitly endorse the method of urinating on those unfortunate enough to get stung, Prescott did suggest flushing the area with fresh water as soon as possible.
“That’s the best thing you can do. And while there are other things that people sometimes recommend, I’ll just leave that part to them,” said Prescott, laughing.
Prescott is also a member of the Waterkeeper Alliance, which sounds like a gang of superheroes, ready to defend the environment. The national and international organization has over 300 members, each serving as the eyes and ears of their local water body, protecting it from pollution and laws that will degrade the habitat, explained Prescott.
Prescott’s role takes him to various areas of the state, from beaches to salt marshes, doing water quality testing, testifying to protect public access, and educating Rhode Islanders.
Instead of a cape, he wears waders.
Perhaps he is a superhero after all.