Citizen Science

Change the Way You Think About Jellies

August 19, 2014

Follow Lisa
Jellyfish on the beach. Photo by Flickr user Peter Roome through a Creative Commons license.

What is JellyWatch?

You’ve probably never headed to the beach hoping to see jellies on the sand or to encounter them in the water.

JellyWatch could change your beach vacations forever!

JellyWatch was launched in 2010 with the support of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) as a citizen science effort to improve the data on jelly populations.

Why is it important?

Steven Haddock, a scientist who works with JellyWatch, says that the site has many goals and rewards: “Developing a scientifically useful dataset, informing the public by identifying the strange marine life they encounter, and inspiring them to appreciate the beauty and diversity of “jellies”, as a counter to the bad press that jellies often get,.” he says.

That’s right! Not only can you provide data on jellies, you can help spread the word that jellies aren’t icky; they’re awesome. Join the international conversation on JellyWatch’s Facebook page to learn more.

“We are hoping to build a picture of time- and space-distributions of jellies. Anyone can download the data set, and we have already had some researchers trying to make use of the data,” says Haddock.

Your observations and any pictures that you include will appear on the sightings list, which allows anyone to organize and download the data.

You might see something newsworthy or new to science. Haddock reports that JellyWatch users have recorded, “a major bloom of salps off California, well before they ended up closing a nuclear power plant. We have had beautiful jellies like Thysanostoma and Cephea, deep-sea jellies from oil rigs, invasive species, new species, and blooms that stretch at least from Southern California to Canada.”

Since all observations include a time and a location, it’s easy to find out what kind of jellies are near the coasts you visit. “We also hope that schools and classrooms will use them as a real-time window on what is happening in the ocean,” Haddock adds.

Ocean creatures today face a variety of threats from acidification to plastic waste. It’s important that we gather as much information as possible on ocean creatures, even those that are expected to thrive.

 “Ultimately we hope this can be a reliable source for ecosystem management,” Haddock says.

How do you get involved?

If you’re visiting a beach or diving, watch for jellies and take pictures if you can.

As those who vacation on the coasts may have guessed, summer is the best time to find jellies on the beach. But, they’re out in the water all year round and all over the world.

“We have gotten sightings from Svalbard high above the Arctic Circle to South Africa and the South Pacific. From New York City and from a rowboat crossing the Atlantic Ocean,” Haddock says. “Most people only see the ones that have washed up on the beach,but there is always *some* kind of jelly out in the water. Depending on the species, summer time is when they are most conspicuous. Earlier they might still be numerous, but be smaller and inconspicuous; later they might be senescing or starting to get tattered.”

It’s best not to handle washed up jellies because some of them still sting.

When you spot jellies record your observations on the website or use the mobile app. Frequent users can register to track their information, but it’s not required.

If you don’t get to the coast very often, JellyWatch can still use your help.

“We need web expertise, people to help with outreach, and people to help with improving the data. We recently added a “confirmed species” field, to put a scientific name on a sighting whenever possible, and we need to translate the reports with common names (“Moon jelly”) to scientific names (“Aurelia aurita”),” Haddock explains.

Whether you’re near a beach or not, JellyWatch is an easy way to get kids excited about what’s happening in the ocean. If you’re taking the family to the beach, keep an eye out for jellies.

Try to get out to a beach while summer lasts, cause it’s prime jelly watching time!

Is there a citizen science project that you think deserves more attention? Contact Lisa Feldkamp, lfeldkamp[at] with information about the project or leave a comment below with a link.

Lisa Feldkamp

Lisa loves all things citizen science and enjoys learning about everything that goes on four legs, two wings or fins - she even finds six and eight-legged critters fascinating at a safe distance. She has a PhD in Classical Literature and Languages from the University of Wisconsin - Madison and enjoys reading Greek and Roman literature or talking about mythology in her spare time. More from Lisa

Follow Lisa

Join the Discussion

Please note that all comments are moderated and may take some time to appear.


  1. i would like to get involved in the jelly watch program ..we are in tierra verde for 8 months..and are at the beach every day ..and do incounter the jelly’s on the beach ..where can i download the information so we can get started when we arrive beck in fl…thanks..margaret santangelo

  2. How perfect that I would read this blog the same day that I shared the book Citizen Scientists: Be a Part of Scientific Discovery From Your Own Backyard (by Loree Griffin Burns) with a school group visiting our public library. We are in Indiana – far from any jellies – but the book is full of suggestions about contributing to scientific investigations. The book is on the Young Hoosier Reading List for this school year. And for the record, a child checked out the book after I book-talked it! Thanks for the blog.

  3. I enjoyed this article about the jellyfish although I live in land-bound Arizona. I once saw jellyfish in a tank in the aquarium near Sydney, Australia. Their movements were hypnotic. Couldn’t take my eyes off them.