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Jellyfish are one of earth’s most ancient animals, and many scientists predict they will be here long after we’re gone. Could these creatures that are 95% water with no brain and no backbone be the planet’s ultimate survivors?  Join some of the world’s foremost jellyfish scientists in uncovering the secrets of jellyfish success.  It seems there is a lot more to jellyfish than we ever could have imagined.

Scientist Angel Yanagihara in the waterAngel Yanagihara is the world's leading jellyfish sting expert Photo: Michael O'Donoghue

One night 18 years ago Angel Yanagihara swam into a swarm of deadly box jellyfish. Miraculously, she survived and now the biochemist is unlocking the mystery of jellyfish stings. Their venom is one of the most potent poisons in the world and can even cause death in humans in minutes. (Find out what to do if you find one.)

We join Angel on the trail of the king of the jellyfish world, the lion's mane – the reddish giants that are a familiar sight off Canadian beaches. With hundreds of tentacles up to 2 meters long they are glorious … and painful. Angel wants to develop an antidote to their sting, and finds lion’s mane has some surprises up its tentacles.

But it’s more than venom that makes jellyfish such effective hunters. In some parts of the ocean they have actually become the top predators. 

Lion's ManeThe dangerous lion's mane jellyfish

We think of jellyfish as bags of water drifting aimlessly around the oceans. In fact, scientists are showing they are anything but.  On a nighttime dive in Woods Hole Massachusetts, Sean Colin and Jack Costello use an underwater laser system to find out more about how jellyfish swim. The results are astonishing.  It turns out jellyfish are the most efficient swimmers in the ocean – even better than fish.   In Ireland, Tom Doyle is researching how jellies (as scientists like to call them) search for prey.  The biggest mystery is how these animals with no senses as we know them stay together in groups.  There’s only one way to find out – attach tracking tags. Tom shows us how you tag a jellyfish.

We also reveal some of the incredible strategies these ancient creatures have developed to survive harsh conditions, overcome injury - even death.  A tiny jelly with a large red stomach may harbor the secret to immortality.  You’ll meet them, and the karaoke singing scientist who has devoted his life and his research to them.

If jellies are the ultimate survivors what does that mean for the future of our oceans?  For Georgia shrimper Wynn Gale it’s good news. We head out on his trawler to go jellyballing – what the locals call fishing cannonball jellyfish.   He catches them by the thousands of kilograms for the Asian market.  But some scientists fear if we aren’t careful, jelly burgers may be in all our futures

Unloading jellyfish on boatFishing for jellyfish

A recent study done by a group of scientists at the University of British Columbia shows jellyfish are increasing in coastal ecosystems around the globe.  Canadian scientist Lucas Brotz says overfishing and other man made changes - like global warming, pollution and coastal development - are transforming our oceans in ways that allow jellies to thrive. It may mean that in the future, there won’t be much else except jellyfish out there.

The future has already arrived in northeastern China. The fisheries are closed.  Giant nomura jellyfish now rule the oceans. A Chinese investigation into the causes has concluded the problem isn’t them, it’s us.

Jellyfish Rule! is the remarkable story about the one of the planet’s most successful animals. They thrive in waters where virtually nothing else can, and their numbers are increasing in marine ecosystems around the globe. Jellyfish have sounded the alarm about the condition of our oceans. Will anyone listen? 

A CBC, The Nature of Things', inhouse production. Produced, directed and written by Susan Teskey, produced by Lisa Ellenwood and edited by Murray Green.

Credits (Click to expand)

directed, produced and written by         
Susan Teskey

produced by
Lisa Ellenwood

editor
Murray Green

cinematography
Tobias Bando
Barry Donnellan
Nathan Mauger
Rob Massey
Ed Middleton  CSC
Ken O’Sullivan
Doug Trent

location sound
Honjo Akihito
Danny Crowley
Keith Henderson
Michael O Donoghue
Jason Wood
Mary Wong
Pete Wonsiak
Tim Wright
Qiao Xin

visual research
Gina Cali

location producers
Jin Ni, China
‎Fumiyo Asahi, Japan

translator
Chieko Bond
Lorne Shapiro

sound design
Alan Geldart

colourist  
Peter Jorgensen  

music consultant
Patrick Russell

audio mix
Ron Searles

online editing  
Adam Champ

Shin Kubota voiceover
Peter Kosaka

graphic artist
Terry O’Neill

associate director
Renée Moreau

resource coordinators
Analisa Amoroso
Megan Beeckmans

unit manager
June Hall

production manager
David Wilson

business manager
Documentary Unit
Wilma Alexander
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special thanks

Katharina Bading, University of Florida
Dr. Jeremy Gault, University College Cork
Damien Haberlin, University College Cork
Marine Harvest salmon farm Castletown Bere, Ireland
Thornell King, Darien, Georgia
Daniel Pauly, University of British Columbia
The Vancouver Aquarium

boats
Graham Ferguson, Ocean Addicts
Brian Perry, Ocean Divers
Mike O'sullivan, Lawrence Cove Ferries

safety divers  
Tim Doyle
John Collins

 

additional images:   

Evergreen  Studios
Howard Hall Productions
Plankton Chronicles, CNRS
Phil Shields
PhD Oleg Kovtun, Odessa National I. I. Mechnikov University, Ukraine
© Teschefilm 2011 distributed by Studio Hamburg Distribution & Marketing
T3 Media / National Geographic
Middle Table Productions
René Heuzey Label Bleu Production
Toyotaka Yamada
Giovanni Bearzi and Silvia Bonizzoni
Japan Underwater Films
Getty Images / BBC Motion Gallery
Shutterstock, Inc.
©Rick Morris, r.e.m films
Aquavision TV Productions
CCTV News Content
NHK - Japan Broadcasting Corporation
Stefano Piraino, Coordinator of the European Project Med-Jellyrisk
Jack Costello, Providence College, Rhode Island
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produced with the participation of

senior producers
Caroline Underwood
FM Morrison

executive producer
Sue Dando

executive director
Documentary Programming
Mark Starowicz
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The Nature of Things
with David Suzuki

produced by
Canadian Broadcasting Corporation
(c) 2015

www.cbc.ca/natureofthings

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