Juli Berwald fell in love with the ocean during her junior year abroad in Israel, when, on a whim, she signed up for a weeklong marine biology course, snorkeling amid the coral reefs of the Red Sea. “It was as if I were Dorothy stepping into Oz,” she writes, remembering how her “world erupted in a kaleidoscope of colors, shapes, and textures.” She went on to receive a Ph.D. in ocean science, eventually becoming a science textbook writer.
Later, as a mother of two living in landlocked Austin, Texas, she “stumbled” upon jellyfish while working on a project with a National Geographic photographer. She became obsessed with the creatures, realizing that “to research jellyfish is not just to look at the creature unfamiliar and bizarre to most, but to study the planet and our place in it.”
Berwald shares her “crazy jellyfish adventure” in the fascinating Spineless. Reminiscent of Hope Jahren’s Lab Girl, Spineless reveals not only an around-the-world exploration of emerging science but also Berwald’s evolution as a science writer, learning to “write a book that matters,” as one jellyfish expert challenged her.
Are a series of jellyfish blooms simply a natural cycle, or are they a dire indication of global warming and increased ocean acidification? The answer, it turns out, is complicated. What’s more, jellyfish are both friend and foe—useful as food and possibly in medicine and engineering, but also the source of stings and a cause of major power plant-disrupting clogs.
As Berwald snorkels amid a jellyfish bloom in the Bay of Haifa, she watches a research photographer cavort with jellyfish like a dolphin. Readers can’t help but be swept away with enthusiasm as the researcher surfaces to say, “I love them so much. They’re like dancers.”
Full of humor and intrigue, Spineless is a seaworthy saga brimming with information about not only jellyfish but also about the health and future of the oceans and our planet.