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Researchers use drones to help study ‘enormous’ jellyfish clusters

UBC researchers use drones to track jellyfish blooms off B.C’s central coast. Video courtesy YouTube/UBC Public Affairs

Unversity of British Columbia researchers have gone to the air to help their under-water studies of jellyfish blooms off B.C.’s central coast.

With the use of drones, UBC oceanography Prof. Brian Hunt and student Jessica Schaub got a different look at the size and composition of jellyfish clusters and their impact on the ocean.

The study was in partnership with the Hakai Institute, a scientific research facility on Calvert Island.

Scientists have been wanting to know why jellyfish blooms have become more widespread and pictures gathered by the drones shows how big the clusters are.

With drone data, along with the use of nets and underwater cameras, the blooms can range from 60 to 120 tonnes of jellyfish in one cluster.

Hunt said that number is “enormous” and is beyond their expectations.

Scientists saw a high number of jellyfish during marine heatwaves in 2015 and 2016 and noticed composition changes in the last two years with warming coastal waters.

Researchers say jellyfish compete with some species of salmon for food and B.C. studies say they eat up to 95 per cent of herring larvae.

“This can have a really major impact on populations. There can be really high predation mortality on these larval stages of coastal fish species,” Hunt said.

The use of drones for routine jellyfish monitoring is being encouraged by the researchers to study population and the influence water temperature has on any changes.

With files from the Canadian Press.

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