How Juli Berwald Found Her Purpose of Professional Life in Jellyfish

“Looking back, I see that jellyfish came to me at a unique moment in my life,” writes Juli Berwald. She had left her academic career as a marine biologist to move to landlocked Austin, Texas, and raise her two kids. After a decade Juli Berwald feels lost without a professional passion, drifting without a purpose.

One day Juli Berwald sees a story in National Geographic: in a chart called “Winners and Losers” of ocean acidification she reads that jellyfish are on the winners’ side. These delicate beings are somehow protecting themselves from acid seas. Even more – they are exploding in numbers where seas are the most polluted. What could that mean?

Juli becomes curious and soon she is completely obsessed. “Once I started looking, I found jellyfish stories everywhere. I spent hours reading about their shape, how they swim, what they eat, whether they think, how they reproduce, how they sting, how they glow.” Facts are mind-blowing. Jellyfish have been swimming in our oceans for over half a billion years – longer than any other animal that lives on the planet.

“This was a project in which I could express my own thoughts and passion. Jellyfish had become better-late-than-never vehicle for me to explore the threats to the ocean’s future. They’re a way to start a conversation about things that can seem boring and abstract – acidification, warming, overfishing, and coastal development – but that are changing our oceans in fundamental ways.”

Juli Berwald “Spineless” 2018

Author’s explorations of these spineless yet sturdy creatures lead Juli Berwald to embrace her own ambition and find a backbone in her professional life. After years of global odyssey, following jellyfish and people who adore them, she writes a book “Spineless: The Science of Jellyfish and the Art of Growing a Backbone”, part memoir, part scientific distillation.

“Spineless: The Science of Jellyfish and the Art of Growing a Backbone” by Juli Berwald. Originally written in 2017, this beautiful edition is published in 2018 by Black Inc. Photo by Beach Books.

In the book you will read about an immortal jellyfish, that can return back to previous stages of development if needed and in that way to never die. About jellyfish in space and jellyfish in the authors’ dining room. The memoir is filled with life-changing personal events too, including a scary crash-landing in Paris of a plane she was on when traveling from Rome to New York.

“There’s a fire in our bellies when we’re young. When we take unconsidered risks. When we fall helplessly in love. When we dance on the beach until dawn. We throw ourselves headlong into the passion, zipping along the edges of waves like the bioluminescence of a red tide. As we age, our fire continues to burn, though sometimes the live coals become buried under the ashes. The jellyfish helped me dig down to a fire inside.”

Juli Berwald “Spineless” 2018

You can pair this book with “Phosphorescence: On Awe, Wonder & Things That Sustain You when the World Goes Dark” by Julia Baird and borrow both from the Sea Library.

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