How's the water in Charlottetown Harbour? It's already warm — and swarming with jellyfish

It's not unusual to see some jellyfish floating by the Charlottetown Harbour this time of year but the hundreds currently in the water are catching people's attention.

"They look at it [and] go, 'Holy cow, look at all the jellyfish there,'" said Reid Barnett, operations manager at the Charlottetown Yacht Club.

"At points, you can almost walk across the water on them, they're so thick."

Barnett spends lots of time around the water and said it looks like more than jellyfish than usual. It's not a problem for boaters but he said he certainly doesn't want to go swimming any time soon.

"Quite often, we're putting the boats down and there'll be a plethora of jellyfish all around the boats," he said.

'They're everywhere'

The sheer amount is also attracting tourists. People along the boardwalk are stopping to take photos and ask why there are so many.

"'I've kinda been wandering around and I see a lot of jellyfish. Everywhere I look, I see the jellyfish," said Fred Rohde, who is visiting from London, Ont.

"Literally, they're everywhere."

Fred Rohde, who is visiting from London, Ont., said the jellyfish are 'everywhere.' (Sheehan Desjardins/CBC News)
Fred Rohde, who is visiting from London, Ont., said the jellyfish are 'everywhere.' (Sheehan Desjardins/CBC News)

Some residents think the jellyfish have arrived earlier too.

"It's very different," said Marlene Hunt.

"Since the beginning of May almost, I see a lot of jellyfish off the wharf, which is kinda startling."

Thrive in warm water

It's likely lion's mane jellyfish in the harbour, according to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. This type of jellyfish is purplish-red with long, scraggly tentacles that sting.

Some in the harbour are about the size of a basketball — but they can get a lot bigger.

"Usually swarms of this size happen later in August, sometimes in the early fall," said aquatic science biologist Jeff Clements.

"What's cool about jellyfish is they grow really, really fast when conditions are favourable — so, when they have lots of food and when the temperatures are nice and warm."

It's likely lion's mane jellyfish in the harbour, according to a DFO aquatic scientist. (Sheehan Desjardins/CBC News)
It's likely lion's mane jellyfish in the harbour, according to a DFO aquatic scientist. (Sheehan Desjardins/CBC News)

Clements said the department doesn't specifically track the population of jellyfish but noted that because they thrive in warm water, record ocean temperatures in Atlantic Canada in recent years might explain their early arrival.

"One thing that seems a bit frightening for me is just how much higher the water temperatures in our region are," he said.

"And that could contribute to why we're seeing these jellyfish in such dense aggregations at least this early in the year."

Clements said he is not too concerned about the long-term impact of the jellyfish but noted they do compete with fish for food.

Meanwhile, on the boardwalk, the jellyfish are continuing to draw quite an audience.

Katherine Ball, who lives in Charlottetown, said she's not typically caught off guard by the creatures but this is something else.

"There are probably a couple hundred in and around they're all clustered in different colours, red and yellow," said Ball.

"I don't swim here but I'll usually go out in the Sea-Doos or whatever. So I don't want to fall in."