Jellyfish are not really going to inherit the seas, a scientific team concluded recently, thereby debunking a claim made by Jane Lubchebnco, before President Obama plucked her out of academia and Environmental Defense Fund to head the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration three years ago.
Nor it turns out now, will mermaids, NOAA tells us, because there aren’t any, except in mythology.
The nation’s fishery and ocean management agency felt the need to confirm that following movies and a “fictional documentary” on the Discovery Network’s Animal Channel in late June -- one so convincing, like the national nervous breakdown caused by Orson Welles’ 1938 radio drama “War of the Worlds, that NOAA got “several public inquires on the topic” on the National Ocean Service’s Ocean Facts section of its website, spokesman Ben Sherman said in an email.
“No Evidence of Aquatic Humanoids Has Ever Been Found” was the headline.
The Animal Channel wasted no time publicizing NOAA’s backhand compliment to the show, titled, “Mermaids: The body found.”
To help, it published a photo of a blue-haired mermaid in a tightly fitting blue mermaid skirt with matching  bikini top, emerging at the beach at New York’s Coney Island in time for the annual “Mermaid Parade.”.
“Why would NOAA bother to pour cold water on mermaids?” the channel wondered tongue-in-cheek on its website. “After all, there are many mythical things that the government doesn’t explicitly deny exist. The United States Bureau of Mines doesn’t issue statements clarifying that no dragons or trolls have been discovered in underground caves or mines.”
The story went viral with reports in newspapers as far away as Shanghai, as Salon, CNBC, just about everybody got into the game. And NOAA spokesman Sherman said he has tracked or counted all the attention.
Not everyone was amused.
“NOAA is probably best served debunking myths in their real science rather than in fictional science,” Mayor Carolyn Kirk said Tuesday.
The agency has produced contradictory stock assessments of Gulf of Maine cod that raised questions about the efficacy of their work, which has produced the specter of a near shutdown of the groundfishery next year. During the cod crisis last May, NOAA was again embarrassed, this time by the D.C. media after it was discovered that the $5 billion science agency was advertising for a “magician” as an inspirational speaker at a conference.
Soon after NOAA pulled the ad from the Government Executive website, Politico proclaimed that “NOAA makes magic ad disappear.”
NOAA’s Sherman held that the mermaid saga and controversy was a kerfuffle -- big deal out of very little -- but a reasonable addition to its chain of nearly 200 ocean facts, and a brief assignment with an incalculable though negligible cost to taxpayers.
But Brian Rothschild, one of the nation’s preeminent marine scientists, of University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth, said he believes the mermaid essay was reflective of waste throughout the agency.
“NOAA is full of mermaids,” said Rothschild in a telephone interview. “As you turn the pages (of the NOAA budget) you see lots of wasted money.”
“To spend a minute of time or money on mermaids is a farce, especially with (New England) facing the entire closing of the the fishery,” said former New Bedford Mayor Scott Lang. “It makes a mockery of the fisheries management system. They can’t tell us the status of the stocks, but they can tell us about mermaids.”
Even before her nomination by President-elect Obama to head Lubchenco had created controversy, co authoring a policy manifesto that declared the ocean would be cleared of finfish by the middle of this century and thus left to the jellyfish unless the government dropped traditional management approaches in favor of a new plan. That privatization plan, now known as the catch share management system  -- continues to shift control of the groundfishery toward larger, better capitalized businesses and investors, while small boat businesses have been driven to he sidelines.
Catch shares were championed by Environmental Defense Fund, a corporate partner of Wal-Mart. And Wal-Mart’s family philanthropy, the Walton Family Trust, was the lead underwriter for the catch share advocacy paper, “Oceans of Abundance,” which warned of a jellyfish takeover. A team of 18 scientists in May debunked the jellyfish thesis.
Coupled with media-driven perception,” wrote the team headed by Robert H. Condon, of the Dauphin Island Sea Lab in Alabama, “a paradigm has evolved in which the global ocean ecosystems are thought to be heading toward being dominated by ‘nuisance’ jellyfish.”
Although the authors found no justification for that conclusion, they pointed to the public fascination with and repulsion from the “gelatinous zooplankton” — which sting and can even kill in spite of their icky, spineless appearance — to explain the phenomenon of fear surrounding a future jellyfish dominance of the world’s oceans.
Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3464, or at email@example.com.