Animals, Australia, Beach & Coastal Walking
Comments 42

The Great Sandgate Blue Blubber Invasion

Yesterday afternoon I was wading through an incoming tide, recalling that it’s best to shuffle your feet when walking in stingray country. A few giveaway clouds of swirling sand just ahead reminded me that I really need to get some appropriate wading footwear.

Then in just a few inches of water I stopped, startled, mid-step before a great brown, mottled, slightly convex disc that I took for a dead or floundering sea turtle.

But nope, it was a stingray, and man, what a commotion it made as it panicked and thrashed its way to deeper water and safety. A not-so-clean getaway.

It’s great witnessing mysterious visitations like these on such a well-trod shore — but this post isn’t about stingrays. Instead I thought I’d share some recent shots of some less lucky visitors, a plague of them in fact — or perhaps a swarm or a bloom, which are the accepted terms.

For the last few weeks Sandgate and other stretches of the east coast have been invaded by jellyfish in their millions:

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High & Dry.

If you’re a visitor, you might have noticed the stench; thanks for coming and sorry about that. (Just as we were finally rid of a noxious algal bloom that had painted the foreshore in psychedelic and revoltingly fragrant swirls for weeks.)

We locals are used to it — as I’ve noted before, the littoral zone might teem with life, but it’s an open graveyard as well. There are always a few jellyfish carcasses littering the flats and high-tide line, and the odd handful or two bobbing gracefully shorewards or down the creeks…

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Will he/she make it out alive? Incoming jelly near the Shorncliffe Pier.

..but lately it’s been like a jellyfish D-Day all up and down the South-East Queensland coast — it even made the papers.

These swarms, or blooms, or invasions happen periodically. Says this source,

In recent years, certain parts of the world — namely Japan, Australia, and Europe — have seen a problematic increase in jellyfish populations. Scientists believe the increase in jellyfish numbers may have to do with additional nutrients in the water, climate change or fishing along the coastlines.

Noted marine biologist Professor Wikipedia adds,

Jellyfish populations may be expanding globally as a result of overfishing of their natural predators and the availability of excessive nutrients due to land runoff. When marine ecosystems become disturbed, jellyfish can proliferate.

At least they leave good-looking corpses. Hard to imagine a more attractive shade of blue in the animal world:

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As kids we we were told that the dark blue was the venomous part. Not sure how reliable that info was.

This is easily the most common and visible species in Moreton Bay — turns out its common names are blue blubber and jelly blubber. When we were kids swimming in Moreton Bay, they were simply jellyfish, an occasional hazard with a decent but not dangerous sting that could even be grabbed from the water if you made sure to grasp the “head” and not touch the tentacles.

(Why would you want to pick up a jellyfish? How else are you going to throw it at your sister?)

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Twilight Jellyfish Stranding, Sandgate.

Jellyfish distinguished them from the far scarier bluebottles (not actually jellyfish), which Americans might know as Portuguese man-o-wars — what we called Portuguese man-o-wars were in fact some other, larger, weirder and infinitely more disgusting and gelatinous saucer-shaped blobs.

We named a lot of things wrongly in those days, I now realise.

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Nothing will empty a picnic/fishing shelter like the stench of death.

The smell ain’t pretty after a day or two, but I’ve enjoyed the surreal streaks of brilliant colour and the allure of the just-plain mysterious these visitations bring to the tidal flats and shoreline.

There’s so much going on out there that we don’t understand yet:

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Reaching the Shore.

The blue blubber’s scientific name is Catostylus mosaicus. In southern waters they can be brownish — I’ve seen paler ones, but they’re rare up here.

I’ll leave you with some tasty Jellyfish Ephemera to enjoy with a side helping of recent pictures, just some interesting facts I came across while looking online into these fascinating critters.

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The tentacles seem to degrade first. On the Sandgate seawall.

Apparently jellyfish are classified as plankton! A defining characteristic is that they are radially symmetrical. They’re 98% water.

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“We will fight them on the beaches…”

Jellyfish belong to the same classificatory grouping as corals and sea anemones. Blue blubbers eat mainly plankton, small fish, some crustaceans, and small particles.

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A Seaweed Shroud.

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Looking towards Redcliffe.

“Recent research shows that jellyfish numbers oscillate over time and will be abundant for several years and then not seen for several years – this bloom of jellyfish appears to be part of a recurring series of events at about this time of year in Moreton Bay”  ~ marine biologist Paul Thomson.

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Stairway to Stinkville.

If they don’t come across as too smart, that could be because jellyfish lack a brain. Instead they employ what’s called a nerve net — a network of neurons, as this source puts it — able to detect light, odour and other stimuli and coordinate a suitable response.

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Night Swimming.

That said, I could be wrong, but yesterday as I was wading past a few living jellies, I imagined that they could detect me and were making attempts at an escape.

Then again, I have this effect on a broad swathe of the animal world, right up to the higher primates.

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I hadn’t been stung since childhood & wondered if it was really that bad. The things I do for research: they got me on both ankles and I’d describe the pain as similar to a decent ant bite, but not as long-lasting. I got ant-bit the other day and the pain still lingered the next morning.

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Multi-Species Stranding.

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Who’s Up for a Dip?

Jellyfish use a single orifice as both mouth and anus. Spend a lot of time watching TV, as I have lately, and you’ll observe that this trait is not confined to jellyfish.

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Low Tide, Sandgate.

You probably won’t be surprised to learn that Australia has more than one deadly jellyfish species. The thumbnail-sized irukandji, in northern Queensland waters, killed two people in 2002, but larger and more prevalent box jellyfish or sea wasps are household names in this state. They have been called the most venomous marine animal known to mankind.

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Dances with Tentacles.

In evolutionary terms, jellyfish are the earliest known animals to have organised tissues—their epidermis and gastrodermis—and a nervous system. They’re also the first animals known to swim using muscles instead of drifting with the whims of the waves ~ The Smithsonian

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Not Far from the Madding Crowd.

Dried, cooked and (gag) raw jellyfish are popular foods in China, Japan and Korea. Then again, if there’s a variety of sea life not eaten in those countries, it probably hasn’t been discovered yet.

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Seaweed Toupee.

In their own environment, jellyfish predators include tuna, shark, swordfish, sea turtles, and at least one species of Pacific salmon.

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Latex Simulacrum.

Jellyfish medusas (the adult bell-shaped form we all know) are either male or female!

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On the Wall.

Although they travel mostly by drifting (I can relate to that), they can produce some vertical movement by contracting their “bell”.

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Another mystery for me is just what that weed is — there’s been a ton of it of late.

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On the Beach, Evening.

Jellyfish exist during their life cycle as polyps and medusas and stages in between. Beginning as coral-like polyps anchored to something solid, they later multiply by budding, and then produce saucer-like larvae which detach and grow into the medusa form we recognise as jellies.

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Looking Shoreward, Brighton.

The sensation of a medusa’s “head” bumping into you while you swim stays with you a long while. Who knows what kind of impact it has on the jellyfish. Ships in the night, no doubt…

~ And that’s all the Goat wrote

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42 Comments

  1. Jackson Burgess says

    They really are everywhere, and my dogs love digging their faces into them.

    • I remember our dogs when I was a kid deriving a special joy from finding the stinkiest pile of dead jellyfish on the beach and then rolling in it.

  2. Perhaps I am biased because I love jellyfish pics and my favourite colour is blue but I do think this is one of my favourite posts. Entertaining and very informative as well as displaying a beautiful set of pictures. I’ve seen that “latex” species in my local park as well as the beach quite frequently! They must be very hardy…

    • Thanks, Jane. If I had the money and time and a nice apartment, I’d love to have an aquarium full of pulsating, throbbing jellyfish — better than any lava lamp (though surely far trickier to maintain).

  3. The blue is so beautiful but they are kind of gross. Not the singletons, the hoards. Just one or two, cool. Large amounts of anything is no good though. I do love all the shots in this post but my favorite is night swimming…and the one where you’re standing in the water and they are surrounding your feet. That’s pretty badass you know 🙂

  4. Denis LeBlanc says

    I`m kind of jealous. Where I grew up near the warm summer waters of the Northumberland Straight, there were only orange coloured jellies – no blue ones at all! Your photos bring thoughts of going for a nervous night swim with well-disguised blue jelly fish that you know are there, but simply cannot see, combined with the smell of those left behind on shore from the previous low tide, delightfully evocative. Even more frightening than with the orange coloured ones I recall.

    • Thanks for the interesting comment, I had to look up the Northumberland Strait, it sounds like a beautiful place. I wouldn’t mind seeing some of those orange jellyfish.

  5. Appreciate the research you put into your posts.
    Also, butthole mouthpieces?
    I know a few humans with this same condition.

    • Me too. At least the jellyfish don’t talk (so far).

      Amazing what prolonged unemployment can do for one’s online research time…

  6. Great pictures!! Interesting info too. Have you read the book “Stung! On jellyfish blooms and the future of the ocean” by Lisa-Ann Gershwin (2013). Depressing (the future of the ocean: lots of jellyfish and lots less of everything else) but a fascinating read.

    • Thanks! Nope, haven’t read that but it sounds intriguing. By chance I saw an episode of the British panel show ‘QI’ the other night and the topic of jellyfish came up (they’re exploring the letter “J”). To quote from an online summary:

      “The thing that is smaller than the Moon and keeps moving the sea around are jellyfish (and not blue whales). Jellyfish account for 40% of the biomass of the ocean. Scientists at Caltech discovered that they move by causing an enormous amount of water at the top, which is oxygen rich, to go down to the bottom, while the water at the bottom, which is full of nutrients, goes to the top. It keeps the circulation of the water healthy and may contribute a trillion watts of energy, which is as much as wind or tidal power. They mix cold and warm water on the surface too.”

      • Lucky they do good stuff for the ocean, because according to “Stung!” we’re going to see a lot more of them (and fewer fish). And they’re 40% of ocean biomass already!!?!

  7. Wow. Really beautiful images and hilarious writing. Reminded me of when we were kids and big transparent jellyfish occasionally stranded on the beach at Aspendale in Port Phillip. I’m afraid we liked to experiment with dropping things into the jelly and seeing how long they took to sink through it, which they did. I’m not feeling good about the neural nerve nets now, though.

    • I don’t think those nerve nets register pain & humiliation as such! Don’t worry, as kids we did unspeakable things to jellyfish and soldier crabs as well (well, the boys did). I think it’s a myth that people living or growing up in natural environs automatically have this marvellous affinity with their surroundings. Tell that to the local bogans who used to drive trail bikes or trashy cars through the wetlands (and dump wrecked ones there)!

      Thanks for reading & commenting!

  8. Kitesurfer Mark says

    I was kitesurfing about 1 week before this post at Sandgate. I used my surfboard which was a mistake due to the length of the fins. Every jellyfish I hit caused a thump & resistance. When I went through a section where there was no water, like a jellyfish carpet, I nearly ground to a halt. On my return it also occurred. The next time I tried, the wind died a bit, I ground to a halt & in I fell feet first. The splash caused a gap to occur in the jellyfish so my face only came in contact with the water filled with larvae, falsely referred to as ‘sea lice’. My face was stinging & burning & received stings all over my body, even down my pants, all due to the larvae. Lycra pants with board shorts & a long sleeves wet shirt saved me from the adults. I abandoned my board & figure 8ed my kite to drag me over the jellyfish to shore, then I waited in pain for my board to blow in. I swore I’d never do that again! After 30 mins I was back out in the water with my twintip kiteboard & headed to Brighton (through millions of jellyfish!) which was clear of jellies in the shallows near the wall. I had a great session there! What an interesting memory.
    Thanks for the great photos!
    I hear the jellyfish are back & I’m going again tomorrow.

    • Damn, I never thought about the kitesurfing issues, that would indeed be a bumpy & potentially painful ride! I will make sure to head over Brighton way for a look today, haven’t walked along the waterfront in a week or so. Hope your ride is smoother, though it sounds like it might not be!

  9. Great post and some amazing images!
    I live on the foreshore at Beachmere. The jellies are on the increase here too, but not as much as Sandgate by the look of it.

    Our elderly neighbour, who has lived here over 50 years was telling us of the time when they got so bad that the jellies were stacked 2-3 layers high. Apparently the smell was so bad that his family had to vacate for 3 days!

    • Ha, I can relate to that response! I did get an amusing comment from a kite-surfer about dealing with the invasion (or trying to). I haven’t walked the waterfront in Brighton for a few weeks, might head there today and see what the “thin blue line” is like at the moment.

    • Robert, thanks so much for the nice comments. I did read them in my email way back, but as I’ve attempted to explain in the latest post, I just couldn’t face the blog itself thanks to a crippling case of the blues. Anyway, I appreciate your attention and response.

  10. Pingback: The Jellyfish are Coming: Brace Yourself for Goomageddon | The Reader Magazine

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