Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 30 September 2014

Strangers on the shore... jellyfish as big as bin lids

The barrel jellyfish found at Portaferry by 10-year-old Nina Lee
More jellyfish on Cranfield beach near Kilkeel

It's huge, it's wobbly and it's washed up on a coastline near you.

The remarkble photograph above of a gigantic jellyfish was taken at Portaferry earlier this week by 10-year-old rockpool explorer Nina Lee.

Experts believe it could be a barrel jellyfish, the biggest species of jellyfish found in UK waters. Individuals can grow to the size of a dustbin lid and are rarely sighted on Northern Ireland's shores.

The scale of the specimen spotted by Nina is indicated by the ballpoint pen laid on its flank.

After the image was posted on Facebook it garnered an amazing 900 'likes', Nina says.

"A few days back I was just wandering round the shore with my dog Harry when I came across this jellyfish and it was absolutely ginormous," she explained.

"So my mum told me to take a picture of it.

"It looked like it had just been washed up by the sea – it wasn't like anything else I had seen washed up on the shore.

"The wildlife trust said they thought it was a barrel jellyfish.

"I hadn't seen anything like it before and I didn't know if it stung, so I didn't touch it or anything."

The startling image has attracted lots of interest after it was posted on the Strangford and Lecale Partnership page by Nina's mum Caroline.

Ulster Wildlife said it believes it could be a barrel jellyfish, a species that is normally only spotted out to sea.

But this spring there have been reports of swarms of barrel jellyfish off the Cornwall coast. Dr Jade Berman of Ulster Wildlife said: "These barrel jellyfish – Rhizostoma octopus – can grow to the size of dustbin lids and are quite solid for jellyfish.

"Normally they are only spotted out to sea, but there have been swarms off the Cornwall coast this year, as they tend to go through boom and bust cycles of reproduction.

"They may look fearsome, but they can't sting people, instead feeding off tiny creatures in the plankton – but it is best not to touch them just in case."

Earlier this week the Belfast Telegraph reported how thousands of moon jellyfish had washed up on Cranfield beach near Kilkeel.

Dr Berman says she has also spotted a few lion's mane jellyfish from a boat off Glenarm and Islandmagee earlier this week, as well as numerous comb jellies, which don't sting but look like jellyfish.

Nina is a keen rockpooler and often comes across interesting animals as she explores the shore at her home near The Narrows in Portaferry.

"I like going round the shore because you never know what you might find, things like shore crabs, sea anemones and sand hoppers," she said.

"Sometimes I find butterfish and other kinds of fish and sometimes I find sea sponges and starfish.

"Normally I would go outside where the house is at the shore by the Narrows, but if I wanted to do some away stuff I'd go to Kearney – it's very good for finding things," she added.

Last week marine expert Matt Slater hit the headlines after he swam with a 20 kilo barrel jellyfish in the Percuil Estuary near St Mawes on the southern coast of England.

FACTFILE

Barrel jellyfish are the largest kind of jellyfish found in Irish waters and feed on plankton, just like basking sharks.

They are strange looking creatures, with a rubbery domed shaped centre which can be as large as a dustbin lid and eight long cauliflower-shaped tentacles floating underneath.

The animals can grow up to 1.9m long, although the ones found here are generally a lot smaller than this.

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