Jellyfish Build Walls of Water to Swim Around the Ocean

By Kenneth Chang.

Locomotion through the seas can be arduous. Water is more viscous than air, and so underwater creatures must overcome strong frictional resistance as they swim.

To make things more difficult, liquid water provides nothing solid to push off against.

But lowly jellyfish, which have swum in the world’s oceans for half a billion years, have come up with an elegant, efficient means of propulsion.

Scientists have found that through their pulsing gelatinous undulations, at least one species of jellyfish creates vortices that rotate in opposite directions. Where flows of the two vortices meet, the collision creates a region when the water is stationary — in effect, creating a wall that the jellyfish use to push off.