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Non-stinging fried egg jellyfish returns

The first individuals of the fried egg jellyfish Cotylorhiza tuberculata have been spotted over the last few days and reported by the public as part of the Spot the Jellyfish campaign along different Maltese coastal areas.

These species were especially reported around the north-eastern coastline of Malta, such as at Sliema and St Paul's Bay.

Testimony to the precise timing of the occurrence of the fried egg jellyfish swarms, the species is also known in Maltese as tal-lampuki - in clear reference to the dolphin fish, which is caught at this time of year - as well by the descriptive monicker of qassata, a traditional Maltese pastry.

Despite its size, the fried egg jellyfish is innocuous and its occurrence is short-lived, normally extending till the start of October at most.

The species, with its purple, bulbous tentacles and a dark yellow bell which can reach a diameter of 30cm, is popular with divers and snorkelers and should not be persecuted, especially since it is a non-stinging species, Alan Deidun coordinator of the campaign said.

Dr Deidun said that juveniles of mackerel were frequently observed sheltering amongst the purple-tipped tentacles of the jellyfish.

Way back in 1977, Guido Lanfranco reported the occurrence of large numbers of the fried egg jellyfish in Maltese bays, especially in those facing the south and south-east.

So far, the size of fried egg jellyfish aggregations are nowhere near those observed in September 2009, when such swarms were the largest observed in recent years. A total of 14 gelatinous plankton species have been recorded so far as part of the Spot the Jellyfish initiative.

The Spot the Jellyfish initiative is coordinated by Dr Deidun together staff of IOI-MOC, and enjoys the support of the Malta Tourism Authority and Nature Trust, Friends of the Earth, EkoSkola and the BlueFlag Malta programme.

The initiative follows a citizen science approach and relies on the collaboration of the public, mariners, divers, and especially the younger generations through their teachers and parents, by recruiting their assistance in recording the presence and location of different jellyfish through the use of a dedicated colourful reporting leaflet. The leaflet is being widely distributed, and can be directly downloaded from www.ioikids.net/jellyfish , which is replete with snippets and anecdotes about different jellyfish species. With the support of MTA, large posters have furthermore been projected on boards along major bays on both islands.

A jellyfish photography competition is also being organised, jointly with Din l-Art Helwa, with submissions being received by Dr Deidun [email protected] and 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 deadline for submissions is September 15.

The reporting is done by 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 7922 2278, 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.

Since the inception of the campaign in May, about 600 records of different jellyfish species have been submitted.

They can be viewed online on a summary map http://193.188.45.233/jellyfish/stats.html which depicts jellyfish occurrence and distribution.

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