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Surprisingly Clever Jellyfish Don't Just Drift

Jan 23, 2015 01:04 PM EST

Ocean currents are not always the same, changing with the weather, seasons, and even climate change. However, drifting jellyfish are never thrown off course, even as they appear to 'go with the flow.' Now, new research explains this, showing that these seemingly simple animals actually have "incredibly advanced orientation abilities."

That's at least according to a study recently published in the journal Current Biology, which details how jellyfish are able to detect the direction of ocean currents and swim accordingly to stay in the most comfortable parts of the ocean.

"Most people who have spent time on the coast will have seen jellyfish and probably assume they are simple animals that just drift with ocean currents," study author Graeme Hays, of Deakin University, recently told The Speaker. "Our work shows this is not necessarily the case."

Hays went on to explain that by gliding along the in ocean at an albeit slow pace, jellyfish groups ensure that they stay in parts of the ocean with the most resources, such as the nutrients essential for the formation of blooms.

It has even recently been proposed that changing ocean conditions - both due to climate change and human influence - may be making these nutrients more available to jellyfish, contributing to a notable rise in the number of massive jellyfish blooms. If the jellyfish are actually navigating themselves toward the most ideal areas, it would show that these blooms are not simply a coincidence.

To showcase how aware of the currents jellyfish are, Hays and his colleagues reportedly collected data from GPS loggers placed both with jellyfish and on simple floats that follow the ocean current. The results were then compared and analyzed, showing that jellyfish will not only take advantage of currents to get around, but will also fight them at times to stay in a preferable part of the ocean.

Interestingly, while it seems apparent that jellyfish know what's going on with the ocean, scientists still have no idea how they know.

Hays suspects that jellyfish, with their long tendrils reaching into multiple depths, can detect changes in "current shear," with tiny shifts in current at various "layers" of the ocean translating into an overall direction. They can then modify how they swim accordingly.

However, that is still a theory that needs to be backed with much more hard evidence.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

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