Keeping Jellyfish: Gendered Labor in Marine Animal Husbandry

Sam Muka

American Philosophical Society

Wednesday, November 1, 2023 12:00 pm EDT

Benjamin Franklin Hall
427 Chestnut St.
Philadelphia, PA

Please register here to attend in person or virtually.
Join us for a Lunch at the Library presentation from Sam Muka, who will be presenting material from chapter 3 of her book, Oceans Under Glass: Tank Craft and the Sciences of the Sea (University of Chicago Press, 2022), which examines Rebecca Helm’s contributions to jellyfish husbandry.
In 2017, The Helm Lab announced that they had induced artificial strobilation in a variety of medusae. Medusae, colloquially known as jellyfish, are a common research animal but they can be difficult to maintain in captivity. They are delicate organisms with very sensitive habitat requirements. If specific tank parameters are not met, jellyfish can die or stay in one life stage indefinitely. The Helm Lab announced a shortcut to this problem: inducing mature forms through the introduction of chemical compounds that induce metamorphosis. Finding the molecular pathways to strobilation assisted understandings of evolutionary development in medusae, but it also made it easier to keep these animals in laboratory settings and to work with them consistently. 
The Helm announcement, headed by Rebecca Helm, represents the most recent breakthrough in jellyfish husbandry over the last century. Jellyfish tankcraft, which combines the development of technology to build and maintain tanks and the techniques required to care for the animals, began in 1898 when researchers became interested in keeping jellies in morphology and embryology laboratories. Over the course of the 20th century, two separate groups developed techniques and technologies, with the labor of technology consistently gendered male and the development of techniques gendered female. This talk will highlight these two groups, how they developed, and how they eventually resulted in successful jellyfish husbandry techniques worldwide.  
This event will take place on Wednesday, November 1, 2023 at 12:00 p.m. ET in Benjamin Franklin Hall and will also be livestreamed. This event is free to attend but registration is required. Please register to attend in-person and online. Lunch will be provided to those attending in person.
This lecture is part of ongoing programming around the Society’s current exhibition, Pursuit and Persistence: 300 Years of Women in Science. Learn more about the exhibition here.
Sam Muka is an Assistant Professor of STS at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey. Her book, Oceans under Glass: Tank Craft and the Sciences of the Sea, was published by the University of Chicago Press in 2022. Her work focuses on the development of technologies that help humans understand and shape the submarine world. She is currently researching the development and deployment of artificial reefs in the coastal United States.