Israel's jellyfish season arrives, might as well wade in and enjoy it

Where do Israel's jellyfish come from, what should you do if you get stung, and how long will they stay? We talked to some experts.

 Illustrative image of jellyfish.  (photo credit: CHEN LEOPOLD/FLASH90)
Illustrative image of jellyfish.
(photo credit: CHEN LEOPOLD/FLASH90)

Jellyfish are once again approaching Israel’s beaches for their annual summer visit. Beachgoers can expect to see a normal amount of the creatures, but will still be able to enjoy the sea.

Dr. Gur Mizrachi of the University of Haifa’s Leon H. Charney School of Marine Sciences observed a dense swarm of jellyfish from an airplane on Wednesday off the coast of Ashkelon. “We saw many jellyfish that we had not seen before, after looking for a few days,” he said.
Although the collection of jellyfish is not yet at its full size, it is growing, according to Mizrachi. “The swarm is not that big yet, but the jellyfish are gaining strength. They were amazing and came to visit.”

However, swimmers in Ashkelon don't have to run out of the water to escape the fish. “For now, people in Ashkelon can swim a kilometer to the right and a kilometer to the left and avoid the swarm,” he said.

Israel, jellyfish, and planning your day

 PEOPLE SUNBATHE on the beach in the Italian town of Stintino, at the tip of Sardinia, Italy. The island is one of the Blue Zones, where a large segment of the population lives beyond 100. (credit: Alessandro Bianchi/Reuters) PEOPLE SUNBATHE on the beach in the Italian town of Stintino, at the tip of Sardinia, Italy. The island is one of the Blue Zones, where a large segment of the population lives beyond 100. (credit: Alessandro Bianchi/Reuters)

Many people will be relying on reports of jellyfish sightings when deciding whether to go to the beach and how far to venture out into the sea. For researchers at the University of Haifa, though, there is much more significant information that can be gleaned from studying the animals.

“The data is useful for many reasons. We are not just using it for the swimmers’ report; That is actually less interesting to us,” Mizrachi pointed out. “Jellyfish are beloved animals. We are interested in where they come from, when they arrived, how they move if they can see, what damage they cause to the places they pass and more.”

Beachgoers who are more interested in the practical task of avoiding jellyfish have a valuable resource available to them. The Meduzot Ba’am (jellyfish in the nation) website (www.meduzot.co.il) provides a map detailing recent sightings of the creatures based on user reports from swimmers, fisherman and other maritime workers. In reports on the site, users can see where jellyfish are, the size of each swarm, its distance from the beach and the species and diameter of the fish.

The number of jellyfish swarms in Israel this summer is normal, according to Dr. Dor Edelist, a marine ecologist at the University of Haifa’s Dror Angel Laboratory. “[In Israel] there are very large seasonal trends and inter-annual differences" in Israel, Edelist told The Jerusalem Post. 

"You may get one year like 2015 or 2017 with huge swarms lasting three months, and other years where you had really mild jellyfish swarms lasting a few months. This year, the swarms are completely normal.”

How long will the jellyfish stay?

The peak of the Jellyfish season is likely to last for approximately a month, according to Edelist. They should be off to their next destination by early August.

The peak of the Jellyfish season is likely to last for approximately a month, he said. They should be off to their next destination by early August.

Those who appreciate the beauty of nature are still in for a surprise. “Israel will have cotylorhiza species this year, which do not sting and are very beautiful,” Edelist enthused. The cotylorhiza can be distinguished from Israel’s common nomad species by its small size and short tentacles.

Edelist also recommended that people get some beach time in by the end of this week before swarms approach the shoreline. “The main jellyfish swarm is mostly still several hundred meters away from the shore, but we’ve already had hundreds of jellyfish on all of our beaches. This is still a good time to go to the beach. We are not raising red flags right now, but in less than a week there will be a lot of jellyfish.”

“The main jellyfish swarm is mostly still several hundred meters away from the shore, but we’ve already had hundreds of jellyfish on all of our beaches. This is still a good time to go to the beach. We are not raising red flags right now, but in less than a week there will be a lot of jellyfish.”

Dr. Dor Edelist

EVEN WITH jellyfish close to the shore, it is still safe to enter the water so long as proper precautions are taken. Edelist suggested that swimmers wear neoprene or Lycra to protect against stings. There is also an effective anti-jellyfish sunscreen that can be applied.

Those brave enough to venture into the sea when large numbers of jellyfish are around should stay away from the creatures and avoid panicking. “We advise people not to touch them in general,” the ecologist counseled. “There is no need to panic. The number one most dangerous part about going in the water is the water itself. Panic will drown you.”

While it is possible to be stung by a jellyfish even after taking precautions, this should not be a great cause for concern since the species that pass through Israel’s waters are not life-threatening.

Negative attitudes towards the fish due to their stings have led many to overlook the positive qualities they have to offer. The marine ecologist points out that although “they wreak havoc on human systems like desalination plants where they clog the filters – and of course they sting us and harm tourism, leading to economic damage – we can also enjoy them. We can eat them, use them for composting and extract natural materials from them for medicine. There are heaps of things you can do with them. 

Despite fears of a “jellyfish joyride” two decades ago, the number of jellyfish has not increased globally in over a decade of monitoring. Beach-goers can therefore appreciate the creatures, which are here to stay until August and will continue to return every year, without worrying about losing their beaches to huge swarms in the future.

“They are ancient creatures and have been here for 600 million years,” Edelist explained. “They compete with sponges for which is the oldest animal.”