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Rare Portuguese man o’ war jellyfish sighted off Marsamxett

A rare Portuguese man o’ war (Physalia physalis) jellyfish has been found by the Armed Forces of Malta (AFM) and passed on to the Spot the Jellyfish team at the University of Malta. The specimen had a length of 25-30cm.

Researcher Alan Deidun said sightings of this stinging species are rare in Maltese waters – in a paper published earlier this year and which can be accessed at www.alandeidun.eu, recent (since August 2009) sightings of this species in Maltese waters, amounting to a total of four, are listed.

The Portuguese man o’war is mostly common in the Atlantic Ocean and is currently wreaking havoc to the tourims industry in Florida as thousands are sighted in coastal waters of this American state and with some internet sites soliciting tourists to avoid Florida for their holidays.

The Portuguese man o’war is not actually a jellyfish but consists of a colony of specialized gelatinous organisms. The colony has an air-filled bladder called the marissa or sail through it manages to float. The species is commonly known as the Portuguese man-o-war by virtue of its resemblance to a 16th century vessel of Portuguese design, known as the caravel, which had triangular sails similar in outline to Physalia. The species is native of tropical areas of the Atlantic Ocean but is also commonly encountered in other regions such as Australia and the Mediterranean Sea. It inflicts very painful stings and the venom in detached tentacles and even in dead specimens (such as those which wash up on shore) can remain active for a few days.

The Spot the Jellyfish initiative is coordinated by Dr Deidun and staff of IOI-MOC, and enjoys the support of the Malta Tourism Authority (MTA) and of Nature Trust, Friends of the Earth, EkoSkola, the BlueFlag Malta programme and, as from this year, Sharklab.

A revamped set of posters has been designed this year and will be affixed at different coastal sites as from next May, balancing out concomitantly the need to be as user-friendly and informative as possible. A jellyfish photography competition is also being organised, jointly with Din l-Art Helwa, with submissions being received by Dr Deidun ([email protected]) and Dr. Stanley Farrugia Randon ([email protected]). The competition is set along two tiers – one for SCUBA divers and snorkelers having an underwater camera and one for those having a conventional camera and taking photos of beached or surface jellyfish specimens. Winners of both categories will be announced during Notte Bianca and prizes include an underwater watch and an underwater camera.

The reporting is done by simply matching the sighted jellyfish with a simple visual identification guide, giving the date and time of the sighting, and indicating the number of jellies seen. Sightings can be also reported online or submitted through an SMS on 79 222 278, or by sending an email message to [email protected]. Strange jellyfish not included on the leaflet should be caught and kept in a bucketful of seawater prior to contacting IOI-MOC staff ([email protected]) for retrieval to attempt a definite identification of the species. If this is not possible, photos of the same individuals should be taken.

So far, over four hundred reports of 11 different jellyfish species have been submitted by the public, and can be viewed online on a summary map (http://193.188.45.233/jellyfish/stats.html) which depicts jellyfish occurrence and distribution. The initiative has received international recognition for its innovation citizen science approach, being featured online in various related portals. The Spot the Jellyfish team welcomes Sharklab aboard and commends Sharklab for being the most enthusiastic contributor to the initiative so far during 2011!

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