Swimmers and water-skiers, put your powdered meat tenderizer away -- the jellyfish are gone from the Chesapeake Bay.

The meat tenderizers break down the protein in the jellyfish venom and melt the sting away. But the nettlesome creatures that plague the bay each summer have drifted away.

This year, the bay jellyfish apparently had their last fling a little early -- disappearing over the Labor Day weekend along with school children's summer vacations.

"It doesn't seems to be too unusual -- sometimes you'll see them as late as October and I've never seen them disappear before mid-August," said Ernest Warinner, a biologist at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science in Gloucester, Va.

"They're still a few of them around, but their abundance is much lower. It's rather dramatic when they disappear -- there are so many of them and then suddenly they're all gone," he said.

One reason swimmers may be spared from jellyfish stings as the warm weather continues this month may be because of the drought, according to Dr. Kenneth Tenore, head of the Chesapeake Bay Laboratory in Solomons, Md.

Because rainfall is more than seven inches below the norm for this time of year, the bay, robbed of the fresh water infusion from rain, is more salty than usual -- a condition jellyfish don't care for, Tenore said.

Actually, jellyfish want more out of their brief summer-long life than simply stinging every human they can sink their tenacles into. They want love. In fact, they live for it and the sexually oriented adults, known as medusa, die after they've spawned, according to Warinner.

That's typically sometime in September or, in a good year for jellyfish and a bad year for swimmers or skiers, as late as October, Warinner said. But each dead jellyfish, or Chrysaora quinquecirrha, leaves behind thousands of microscopic larvae, which attach to material underwater and grow into goblet-shaped polyps. Once the polyps reach sexual maturity in late June " . . . They're not important. It just goes to show that Mother Nature's not totally organized." -- Dr. Kenneth Tenore or early July, they crowd the waters of the bay and other salty havens.

Even biologists, known to defend all manner of critters for serving some useful purpose or another, rank jellyfish as high on peskiness and low on popularity.

"But they'll be back one way or the other next year, unfortunately," Tenore said. "They're like a dead end on the food chain -- they're not important. It just goes to show that Mother Nature's not totally organized."