Spine­less: The Sci­ence of Jel­ly­fish and the Art of Grow­ing a Backbone

  • From the Publisher
March 29, 2018

Jel­ly­fish are an enig­ma. They have no cen­tral­ized brain, but they see and feel and react to their envi­ron­ment in com­plex ways. They look sim­ple, yet their propul­sion sys­tems are so advanced engi­neers are just learn­ing how to mim­ic them. They pro­duce some of the dead­liest tox­ins on the plan­et and yet are unde­ni­ably allur­ing. Long ignored by sci­ence, they may be a key to ecosys­tem stability.

Juli Berwald’s jour­ney into the world of jel­ly­fish is a per­son­al one. Over a decade ago she left the sea and her sci­en­tif­ic career behind to raise a fam­i­ly in land­locked Austin, Texas. Increas­ing­ly dire head­lines drew her back to jel­lies, as unprece­dent­ed jel­ly­fish blooms top­pled ecosys­tems and col­lapsed the world’s most pro­duc­tive fish­eries. What was unclear was whether these inci­dents were symp­toms of a chang­ing plan­et or part of a nat­ur­al cycle.

Berwald’s desire to under­stand jel­ly­fish takes her on a sci­en­tif­ic odyssey. She trav­els the globe to meet the sci­en­tists who devote their careers to jel­lies, hitch­es rides on Japan­ese fish­ing boats to see giant jel­ly­fish in the wild, rais­es jel­ly­fish in her din­ing room, and through­out it all mar­vels at the com­plex­i­ty of these allur­ing and omi­nous bio­log­i­cal won­ders. Grace­ful­ly blend­ing per­son­al mem­oir with crys­tal-clear dis­til­la­tions of sci­ence, Spine­less reveals that jel­ly­fish are a bell­wether for the dam­age we’re inflict­ing on the cli­mate and the oceans and a call to real­ize our col­lec­tive respon­si­bil­i­ty for the plan­et we share.

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