Marine biologists, alarmed at the recent increases in 'blooms' or swarms of jellyfish, are demanding funding to investigate their effect on postmen. Jellyfish numbers have increased dramatically in recent years, but no-one is quite sure of the ramifications for Britain's struggling postal service.
Managers at the Post Office were alarmed when it was first suggested that they might be under threat from jellyfish. "We hadn't given it a second thought", said Mike Tidy, the industry's health and safety representative. "But then a post-graduate from Bristol University contacted us, and explained that some have deadly stings, and that increasing numbers can upset the delicate ecosystem of the oceans. There was even a suggestion that there could be some kind of arcane interdependency that affects our workers' abilities to wear shorts in hot weather. We're not completely sure how this is possible, but we agree that we need to find out."
Jim Rhodes, a researcher with the university's marine biology department, explained why they are so concerned. "We noticed that a lot of these jellyfish blooms occur in warm, tropical seas, often adjacent to sandy beaches with beautiful sunsets. We are really keen to carry out research in these areas, so we performed a risk analysis. I can't show you my data just at the moment, but there was definitely a drawing of a post office, a jellyfish, and a big question mark."
Jim quickly drew support for his proposals, by showing fellow researchers some jellyfish in a tank at a chinese restaurant. "They thought they were really cool, and quickly agreed that it was important to find out how thousands of these would react to a little red trolley with parcels in it. It could be a very real threat, as our early research has shown."
A team of biologists, engineers and a man with a beard carried out some field trials on a typical urban postal route. "We suspended a jellyfish from a toy helicopter, and hid behind the bins. When our subject tried to deliver an insurance reminder to number 78, we chased him down the path with our variable-wing sea jelly, and continually lurched and wobbled our tentacles at him as he lay curled up by the rhododendrons. We recorded vastly increased stress levels in the subject, and a tendency towards bad language. It was a breakthrough moment, we'd at last established a causal link between jellyfish and a postman's ability to complete his round without soiling himself."
Funding is needed to charter a yacht and a mini-submarine capable of launching replica postmen into crystal-clear azure blue seas. The team have approached the Natural Environment Research Council, seeking a grant of £350,000 and some vouchers for suncream. Jim has already packed his suitcase, but is unsure when the expedition will commence: "We're still waiting for an official response, it's been two weeks now. Maybe it's got lost in the post."
Jim was quick to defend the veracity of the research. "The link between jellyfish and postmen may be tenuous, but these ambiguous projects are often the most satisfying to work on. Some of them can run for absolutely years."