Jul 22, 2018 | Updated: 09:54 AM EDT

VIDEO—Jellyfish Reveal A Knack for Global Positioning & Swimming in New Study

Jan 24, 2015 02:11 PM EST

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While jellyfish may seem like an innocuous marine species, most commonly known for their ability to sting, a new study published in the journal Current Biology reveals that the little gelatinous creatures are actually quite efficient in traversing waves, and can also detect the direction of ocean currents to effectively swim against them. Like a character straight out of Oz, without a heart, bones and even a brain, these little creatures may seem like their helpless in the wild but they're proving that they can swim against the currents life brings them.

"Detecting ocean currents without fixed visual reference points is thought to be close to impossible and is not seen, for example, in lots of migrating vertebrates including birds and turtles," co-author of the study and researcher with Deakin University in Australia, Graeme Hays says. "Jellyfish are not just bags of jelly drifting passively in the oceans. They are incredibly advanced in their orientation abilities."

While cross-flows of ocean currents are often a formidable feat for many marine species, it appears that jellyfish now are able to circumvent the problems that would cause them to simply drift away. In fact, their ability to detect the effect that ocean currents have on their movement allows jellyfish to effectively fight agains the flowing waters.

"Our results show that jellyfish can actively swim countercurrent in response to current drift, leading to significant life-history benefits, i.e., increased chance of survival and facilitated bloom formation" Hays says.

And this discovery doesn't simply add to the growing body of evidence showing that that even creatures without brains can act in a clever fashion. It has practical applications as well. By taking into account this ability to move against ocean currents, researchers looking into the often disruptive jellyfish blooms that lead to several beach closures throughout the year can now better detect where the species may be headed and where their next stop may be.

"Now that we have shown this remarkable behavior by one species, we need to see how broadly it applies to other species of jellyfish," Hays says. "This will allow improved management of jellyfish blooms."

Hays and his colleagues believe that this unexplained phenomenon can likely be explained by the jellyfish detecting ocean currents, as water moves across their body surface. However, the team is not ruling out other modes of detecting orientation, and also theorizes that the tiny sea creatures may detect the Earth's magnetic fields or use infrasound to move about the oceans.

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