Are Jellyfish Good Swimmers?

Less than 10 percent of the earth’s oceans have been thoroughly explored. However, using research vessels and submersibles to chart data such as ocean temperatures, salinity and oxygen levels is a costly proposition.

Jellyfish can be made to swim faster and more efficiently with the help of a prosthetic device developed at Caltech.
Jellyfish can be made to swim faster and more efficiently with the help of a prosthetic device developed at Caltech.

But there are jellyfish everywhere, engineers at Caltech and Stanford University reasoned, so why not use them to collect information about the oceans? Earlier this year, researchers found that they could speed up slow-moving jellyfish by equipping them with a tiny prosthetic device that helps them swim faster and more efficiently -- making them even more effective than swimming robots.

Although jellyfish exploration and information collection is still a mostly theoretical prospect, the next step could be to develop a system that guides jellyfish in specific directions and allows them to respond to signals.

Jellyfish explorers:

  • Jellyfish use a pulsing motion to propel themselves forward, waving their tentacles to move -- usually to capture prey. The Caltech device uses electrical impulses, similar to how a cardiac pacemaker regulates someone’s heart rate.

  • The device is about two centimeters in diameter and is attached to the jellyfish by a wooden barb. The researchers were careful not to harm or stress the animals, which is evident when they secrete mucus.

  • The researchers found that “jellyfish possess an untapped ability for faster, more efficient swimming. They just don't usually have a reason to do so."

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