A few of these were first reported off the coast of South-West England a month ago, but much further south on beaches in the far west of Cornwall. Over the intervening weeks the prevailing winds have slowly moved them eastwards along the coast and last week they were being washed ashore in numbers just west of Rame Head with a few as far north as Teignmouth, but I had not yet seen one. I have been fascinated by them for as long as I can remember and did briefly consider driving down to Arymer Cove yesterday morning but it couldn’t really be justified on the off chance. Besides, the southerly winds of Hurricane Ophelia would surely push them into Torbay.
The fore-runners of Ophelia arrived this morning, low clouds masking a blood red sun and all morning the clouds had an eerie orange glow due to a combination of Saharan dust and smoke from the wildfires raging across Portugal carried aloft. But at lunchtime the wind picked up from almost nothing to gusts of 40knots and the sky cleared to cloudless blue.
The only place then that would be worthwhile swimming was St Mary’s Bay and there would be a slight chance of flotsam being washed ashore. And finally there on the beach was a stranded and battered Portuguese Man o’ War exhibiting the brilliant blue and pink colours that had always seemed to bright to be true. Another lay a few meters away and another much smaller but that was all.
These are not jellyfish which are fully integrated multicellular animals but colonial cell colonies of the order Siphonophora where the cells (zooids) group together assuming individual functions such that they cannot survive in isolation. They carry powerful stinging nematocyst cells on the tentacles which may trail for 10m or more in the sea and can cause anything from an extremely painful sting, to blistering, to long term muscle and nerve damage right through to death. Fortunately though and despite the many sightings I have not heard of anyone getting stung. Current best treatment guidance in that event is to soak the area in ordinary vinegar and then immerse in hot water or apply a hot gel pack for as long as possible. This research does however run contrary to generally accepted best practice, but I’d rather trust real science any day of the week.
There are however only 3 and they are all at the windward end of the beach so a swim is in order at the other end of the beach, though swim in this case is more of a short bounce in the waves.
As the day goes on more and more are reported along the coast. Plague of beasties and blood red sun, no wonder the internet is alive with those forecasting the apocalypse.