Today we spotted jellyfish!

During a lifetime of beach holidays I’ve been lucky enough to spot many jellyfish, usually transparent and colourless; mostly gloopy, dead blobs on the shoreline.

2016 has been very different; we’ve seen so many jellyfish that I’ve managed to photograph and video, though not that professionally, several live jellyfish around the country; Lion’s Mane, Compass, Blue and Moon jellyfish (plus a sneaky Portuguese Man-O-War in Florida).

The best time to spot live jellyfish is in bright sun with a calm sea, so today we didn’t expect to see any as it’s grey and windy with strong waves. Mother Nature surprised us this afternoon. It was too choppy to spot swimming jellyfish but we saw 5 dead Lion’s Mane jellyfish on the strandline.

portuguese-man-o-war-stranded-on-beach
Portuguese Man-O-War (Physalia physalis), Florida

What is a jellyfish?

jellyfish
ˈdʒɛlɪfɪʃ/
noun  :jellyfish; plural noun: jellyfish; plural noun: jellyfishes

  1. 1.

    a free-swimming marine coelenterate with a jelly-like bell- or saucer-shaped body that is typically transparent and has stinging tentacles around the edge.

Hmm, not much help! They are definitely not fish, being invertebrates (no skeleton). They are creatures belonging to the phylum Cnidaria, a zoological category of aquatic animals known as coelenterates or cnidarians, which also includes corals and sea anemones. Not much more help? Well anyway..

Jellyfish survey

We record all our family’s jellyfish sightings with the Marine Conservation Society’s jellyfish survey. Simply go to their website and log the time, date, location and species whenever you spot a jellyfish. You can also record sightings of basking sharks, turtles, alien species and underwater creatures.

I took these photos this summer in Cornwall and Northumberland

Why report sightings?

Jellyfish are the staple diet of the threatened leatherback turtle, little known as a seasonal visitor to UK seas. These reptiles migrate here from their tropical nesting beaches, and analyses of stomach contents of dead leatherbacks stranded on our shores shows that they feed on several species of British jellyfish. By comparing the distribution of jellyfish with environmental factors such as sea temperature, plankton production and current flow, scientists attempt to understand what influences the seasonal distribution of jellyfish and leatherbacks in UK waters.

Identification guide

The Marine Conservation Society also produce an excellent identification sheet if you’re not sure which jellyfish you’re looking at, including those that sting, and they provide direct identification via emailed photographs.

Caroline noting today’s sightings

Jellyfish safety

Some jellyfish sting, so here are some things to be aware of if you spot one: –

  • Never touch jellyfish with bare hands (though Caroline seems immune…)
  • Even severed tentacles and beached jellyfish can sting in some instances
  • Always use a stick or wear arm length rubber gloves if you need to turn them over for identification (sorry; do as I say not as my wild child does!)
  • Beware of the stinging tentacles and keep your face and any exposed skin well clear
  • Seek medical attention in the case of a severe sting
child-holding-tiny-lions-mane-jellyfish
A dead jellyfish – avoid touching with bare hands!

Surveying marine life is a great way to help scientists monitor fluctuations in marine populations and climatic changes as well as charting any changes in our marine and coastal environments.

Get down to the seaside, grab your jellyfish ID chart and start surveying.

Jellyfish facts

  • A group of jellyfish is called a smack!
  • They are actually plankton not fish
  • Jellyfish can be bigger than a human or as small as a pinhead
  • Some jellyfish grow tentacles up to 43m long
  • They are made up of 98% water
  • Jellyfish have been around for 650 million years, before some dinosaurs
  • They have no brain, heart or bones and use nerves on their tentacles for orientation
  • Some species produce their own light, known as bioluminescence
  • There are thousands of different species worldwide
  • Jellyfish eat algae, tiny plankton (zooplankton), crustaceans, marine animals, even other jellyfish
  • Their sting is primarily used to catch prey
  • They can only control vertical movement by opening and closing like and umbrella, otherwise they drift with the tides

Learn about other animals and wildlife on our Wildlife page.