European Coverage Varies on Jellyfish … Climate Change Connection … or Lack of

Sure, climate change now has a more prominent place on the media agenda. But that doesn’t mean news organizations will always pay prominent attention – or any attention, for that matter – to the global warming angle in a given story.

Consider an incident in November, when a huge mass of jellyfish – millions or even billions of the creatures, according to different accounts – wiped out the entire population of more than 100,000 fish in Northern Ireland’s sole salmon farm. The mauve stinger, a purple-hued jellyfish, more commonly appears in the warmer Mediterranean, various European news organizations reported.

Some of the stories tied the jellyfish attack explicitly to global warming. But others were more circumspect, and some mentioned no such connection or discounted it.

Spiegel Online posted a November 26 article with considerable scientific detail, touching on the uncertainties and unknowns of the salmon farm incident. The first paragraph asked, “Is it a sign of global warming, overfishing or just the natural motion of tides?”

The story stressed the possible role of climate change:

“Even marine biologists who believe the swarms were a natural occurrence were surprised by their scale. Until now, experts had thought of the waters off Ireland and Britain as too cold to make a home for these particular jellyfish ….

“Many scientists regard an unprecedented swarm of Mediterranean jellyfish in Northern Irish waters as a sign of global warming. The frequency of mauve stingers in the North Sea has, in fact, risen over the last 10 years.”

In its November 21 report, filed with a Dublin, Ireland, dateline, the Associated Press touched on climate change briefly in the sixth of eight paragraphs: “Until the past decade, the mauve stinger has rarely been spotted so far north in British or Irish waters, and scientists cite this as evidence of global warming.”

A December 5 story from the AP, “Global Warming Wreaks Havoc With Nature,” published with a Bali, Indonesia, dateline to coincide with the U.N. climate talks there, offered a collection of worldwide examples to back up that assertion. There was one short reference to the mauve stinger: “Millions of Mediterranean jellyfish have turned up off Northern Ireland and Scotland.”

The Telegraph of Britain on November 22 mentioned briefly that “scientists cite (the mauve stinger’s) migration north as evidence of global warming.”

Also using only generic reference to “scientists” but with no explicit reference to global warming, The Times of Britain reported the same day: “Scientists attributed the increase in swarms of mauve stingers to the warming of the seas and the decline in their predators, including sunfish and trigger fish, through overfishing.”

Also on November 22, Reuters reported, with no direct global warming reference, that the salmon farm manager said such mammoth-scale groupings of jellyfish “only happened every decade or so and last week’s appearance off the Irish coast was also due to unusual environmental factors including higher-than-normal water temperatures.”

In four articles posted from November 22-24, the Belfast Telegraph likewise had no explicit mention of climate change. At the end of its November 22 account, the newspaper quoted a local marine biology professor’s comment to Radio Ulster that the jellyfish “species is well-known for its population fluctuations which peak almost every 10 years,” and that the salmon farm incident marked “the peak of the cycle.”

FishUpdate.com, a Scotland-based trade publication, quoted an Irish aquaculture organization official as saying that “there is a tendency for such occurrences to be blamed on phenomena such as global warming, (but) there simply isn’t enough long-term data available to support such a theory.”

The article’s writer added: “Jellyfish blooms and phytoplankton blooms are natural phenomena commonly observed in coastal waters between April and October. According to the Scottish Government, millions of salmon have been killed as a result of these blooms in recent years.”

The BBC and Britain’s Guardian typically pay close attention to climate change, but their website articles about the jellyfish attack didn’t address that topic.

The Guardian‘s short story noted simply, “Fish farms around Britain and the west coast of Ireland have been attacked before by jellyfish, but the type blown towards the (devastated salmon farm) by northern winds had never been recorded in that area.”

Bill Dawson

Bill Dawson is an independent journalist who edits Texas Climate News, an online magazine published by the nonprofit, nonpartisan Houston Advanced Research Center. He was previously environment writer for the Houston Chronicle.
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