Jellyfish sightings on the rise

Did you know that a group of jellyfish is known as a “smack”? We wonder if that’s how it feels when you’re unfortunate enough to collide with them in the water!

It turns out that we’ve had a bumper year for these squidgy sea creatures in the UK, with the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) reporting a huge increase in the number spotted.

Large barrel jellyfish usually make up 10% of sightings, but have been the most prevalent jellies for the second year running. This year so far, a massive 75% of sightings have involved this species. Even Mr Toad saw one whilst out paddle boarding on the Kingsbridge ria last month!

MCS are calling for more research to be done to find out why jellyfish appear to be on the increase in our waters. “Our National Jellyfish Survey suggests significant recent rises in the numbers of some jellyfish species in UK seas, most notably the barrel. The million-dollar question is why is this happening? At the moment we just don’t know,” says Dr Peter Richardson, MCS Biodiversity and Fisheries Programme Manager.

August is usually the peak month for jellyfish sightings around the UK, and already over 1000 reports have been received this year. But don’t feel you need to stay out of the water: although jellyfish often get a bad press, most of the species washing up around our shores don’t cause much of a problem. We do advise caution though. Watch but don’t touch, as stings can range from mild to incredibly painful, and there have been occasional sightings of the potentially dangerous Portuguese Man O War.

There’s definitely no need to panic about all these jellyfish sightings. Huge “smacks” of jellyfish are not a new phenomenon by any means, having been seen in the fossil records over the past 500 million years. Huge blooms of moon jellies have even forced the closure of UK nuclear power stations in the past, and large numbers of mauve stinger jellyfish have been known to wipe out salmon stocks in fish farms.

“People are fascinated by jellyfish and that’s why our survey is one of our most successful citizen-science projects,” says Dr Richardson. “But we believe there is now a need for UK Government to commission dedicated scientific research and monitoring to answer pressing questions about what is happening to jellyfish numbers, why it is happening and what this means for our precious and productive seas.”

If you’d like to get involved with the survey whether you’re at home or on holiday with us in the South West, you can download this handy guide to identifying common jellyfish and report your sightings here.

If you do encounter any jellyfish, here are some quick tips:
- Never touch jellyfish with bare hands
- Always use a stick or wear arm length rubber gloves if you need to turn them over for identification
- 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