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‘Monster jellyfish invade Dorset coast …’

From: The Mirror, UK News, 24 May 2015.
Headline: ‘Monster jellyfish invade Dorset coast and surround swimmer and his 10-year-old grandson

‘Record numbers of the giant jellyfish, which live off plankton, have swarmed on the UK’s south-west coast this year’ South West News Service (SWNS)

Steve Trewhella took the amazing image when he and his ten-year-old grandson, Finn Hatcher, encountered this barrel jellyfish (Rhizostoma pulmo) off the coast of Dorset.

Monster jellyfish

‘This enormous barrel jellyfish appears to dwarf the dinghy bobbing on the ocean above. With the appearance of a “Doctor Who” alien, this scary-looking sea monster appears to dwarf the dinghy bobbing just above.’ Photo by Steve Trewhella. Original caption by SWNS

Careful camera work created an optical illusion that made the monster jellyfish appear even bigger than it is, but some of his other snaps show it almost as big as the snorkeller next to it.

Record numbers of the monster jellyfish, which live on plankton, have swarmed on the UK’s south-west coast this year.

Mr Trewhella … was astonished when he discovered the waters a mile offshore filled with thousands of them and said he swam among more than 100. Steve, 51, who has been taking underwater photographs for more than 30 years, said he had never seen so many.

He estimated thousands of the colourful creatures, which weigh 100 lbs, were now bobbing along a few miles from the Dorset coast.

Experts believe the unprecedented invasion could be due to warm weather and overfishing which leaves fewer predators to eat them when they are young and smaller.

The monster jellyfish may also have overwintered in the depths of UK waters and their arrival is expected to bring 8-ft long leatherback turtles which feast on them and huge basking sharks also on the plankton trail.

From Wareham, Dorset, Steve said: “Finn had never seen a monster jellyfish. I hoped we might be able to spot a couple and he would be able to get into the water with one.

Monster jellyfish

‘The huge creature looks oddly beautiful backlit by the sun above the sea’. (SWNS)

“We never expected to stumble across more than we knew what to do with.They were wonderful and such magnificent animals, and you just can’t help but be impressed when you see a four foot long jellyfish by your side.

“We saw one, then every couple of seconds another, and another and another. We last got a glut of them in the 1980s, but it was nothing like what I saw this year. Monster jellyfish were just everywhere. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

These monster jellyfish, commonly known as barrel jellyfish or Rhizostoma pulmo, are found in the northeast Atlantic and Mediterranean. R. pulmo is the biggest species to be found in the U.K.’

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Now to add a bit of background to the previous ‘newser’. This, from Let There Be Life, pp. 96-8:

Verse 19. Jellyfish also God caused to swim in the seas that they should be brought whithersoever the wind and the tide willeth, and to have habitation with the plankton both green plants and animals that are within the deep.

They used to be called coelenterates, because they consist of little more than a gut cavity; now they are called cnidarians, for the stinging cells they all possess. Their origins are obscure. Between them, jellyfish and polyps comprise one of the most enigmatic animal groups. One thing is certain: they are more advanced than sponges, which embody most major cell types devised by living things. Jellyfish and polyps have nerve cells, which sponges never developed. With that, Nature had virtually completed its repertoire of specialized cellular building blocks. From here on, evolution deals in changing form and complexity rather than basic cell development.

Cnidarians represent an experiment with more than nervous tissue. The trailing medusae of jellyfish and the polyps of coral or sea anemones show little obvious affinity. But they are co-equals in an ongoing experiment making use of two distinct body types. Some species exhibit both, alternating from generation to generation.

Monster jellyfish

Aurelia aurita, the moon jelly. At its largest, Aurelia is 40 cm across. Photo © Alexander Vasenin, Egypt, Red Sea, 2010

The bell-shaped jellyfish Aurelia aurita is a case in point. Its larvae settle on the bottom and become polyps, looking for all the world like coral animals. Then, in the next generation, tiny medusae break from the polyps and return to the free-swimming birthright of their grandparents. Polyps are little more than inverted medusae, but most species eventually committed themselves to one configuration or the other and took on a final, irrevocable physical form. Jellyfish elected to become medusae, undulating through time and the oceans as ephemeral bags of ocean water held together by the membranes of a single life. They have left scant record of their presence or their passing, save for pressure marks where their soft bodies stranded on mud and died. By contrast, polyps built structures to last. Collectively their skeletons have fashioned coral reefs into the most durable of all life’s wonders. Nature’s record is at once the most fleeting and the most enduring within this animal group.

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RF/Monster jellyfish invade Dorset/from 1. The Mirror, and 2. Wessex Tales