BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan — A group of service members alerted the international scientific community to a new freshwater species of jellyfish according to the latest issue of Bioscience. The new species has been spotted swarming in shower stalls across US military installations in the landlocked country.
Helen Fox, a marine biologist with the Conservation Science Program, documented her virtual collaboration with a group of soldiers assigned to the Environmental Laboratory of the US Army Corps of Engineers Construction Engineering Research Laboratory (CERL). Their dream of putting the “Afghan White Honey” jellyfish on the World Wildlife Federation (WWF) protected species list is quickly becoming a reality.
"These dedicated soldiers are the real heroes of this noble cause," Fox told Duffel Blog earlier today. "I cannot thank Spc. Hugh E. Rection, Pfc. Harry Ballsonya, and Pvt. Howie Feltersnatch enough. Without them another of Earth's species would be forced into extinction."
Jellyfish in Asia Minor are typically found in the Gulf of Oman, and have never before been seen in the region of the Hindu Kush.
Fox told Duffel Blog how the soldiers contacted her via email in late 2014 about a mysterious animal literally "choking the pipes" of showers.
"After a Dallas Cowboy Cheerleader USO show they noticed the showers teeming with these gentle invertebrates. I could tell from their descriptions right away — 'shape of a shucked oyster and tentacles resembling a pearl necklace' — that a new species of the phylum Cnidaria had been discovered!"
While the find is revolutionary, Fox concedes she knows very little about the species and depend on the trio for their personal observations, which can be subjective at times. "They call them their 'shower babies,'" Fox said. "It's sweet, but it's not very objective."
The engineers reported various symptoms after contact with the jellyfish: circumscribed hairy dysembryoplasia of palms; amaurosis fugax (or “fleeting blindness”); mental illness; and erectile dysfunction.
These were quickly debunked by Fox and her team. However, occupational hazards, including sprained wrists, slip and fall injuries, and, in rare cases, violent confrontations between service members, have been attributed to their blooms.
"Unfortunately the injury rate and monumental clean-up efforts are creating a lot of negative attention for this beautiful animal," said Fox. "Most recently, the soldiers told me that the unit's sergeant major has a personal vendetta against the jellies and is on a mission to 'rub them out.'"
But Fox is confident in the abilities of the three soldiers to talk some sense into the senior NCO.
"In their latest email they reiterated that they believe it is a 'real boner' on his part," she said, "and his efforts to sabotage our work will definitely 'blow up in his face.'"
At press time, Fox was headed to Iraq to investigate a new batch of jellyfish in Bayji and Ain Al-Asad Air Base. Sources there believe their numbers will explode 100-fold over the next 10 to 20 years.