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November 9, 2021

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We don't take you just anywhere.

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The view off Forster Main Beach last week (see story below). 

Stingers, stingers, and more stingers

oos logoBlueys – The mystery deepens

Blueys. Love ‘em or loathe ‘em, they’re with us, and they ain’t goin' away.

Yet again, we are searching for the answers to some of life’s great questions –

  1. What makes bluebottles be there, floating around offshore, ready to be blown in to the beaches by an onshore breeze?
  2. What makes them spawn in abundance so that they are floating about out there, often in plague proportions?

Astute observers will note that these are two sides of the same question: Why are they there when they are there? Why not always or never? Why more so sometimes than at other times? What makes them spawn?

Special subject…

We have asked this question/these questions several (many) times in the past, but the best anyone can come up with is, ‘Oh, they get blown in by the nor’-easters’.

That is true. But why aren’t they blown in by all nor’-easters, or by all sou’-easters? The answer to that question is that they aren’t always there, floating about insouciantly, ready to be blown in.

Another question: Why are they in some places but not in other places, even nearby?

Case study: In Forster, where we swim a bit in the ocean, we swim mainly at the town’s Main Beach, which faces nor’-east. You would think that we are particularly vulnerable to bluey infestations. In the last two years, however, we have had very few problems with them, despite what incessant black nor’-easters blowing over the height of summer, and often at other times. Yet at One Mile Beach, barely a kilometre away, and which faces east, they have experienced repeated bluey invasions over the same period. Why them and not us?

Juli Berwald’s book, Spineless (Riverhead Books 2017), attempts to answer this question, inter alia (albeit not in specific reference to blueys at Forster). But it can’t, because, it says, no-one knows what makes jellyfish spawn.

What we do know, Berwald says, is that jellyfish (blueys ‘n all) come from polyps, and polyps clone to make new jellyfish.

Berwald quotes one researcher, Lucas Brotz, at the University of British Columbia, who has done a paper on the growth of jellyfish populations in coastal regions worldwide. Brotz theorises that one of the causes of an increase in jellyfish numbers is the increase in hard surfaces around shorelines; or, put another way, increasing development. The reason, he says, is that jellyfish polyps like hard surfaces to live on and the increase in structures such as wharves, artificial reefs, even buoys, moorings, breakwaters and concrete shoreline provide rich opportunities for them. And all of those hard surfaces, with untold (hectares) of undersides, are potentially brand-new habitats for jellyfish polyps.'

Berwald writes: ‘Jellyfish scientists have compared the jellyfish polyp to a Trojan horse. By building habitats for the polyps, we are inviting them into our bays and ports and beaches. They arrive and plant themselves, appearing as benign guest. And then, when they get the cue, they release an invasion of medusae (juvenile jellyfish, if you like, which become jellyfish: oss.c) before we can react.’


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A bluey. (Image: David Helsham Design @glistenrr)

But what is ‘the cue’?

Berwald says: ‘Despite all the artificial jellyfish habitats we’ve constructed, we’ve observed the polyps of only a miniscule number of jellyfish species in the wild… just over two dozen species.

‘Entire fisheries profit from two species of edible jellyfish, but the locations of the polyps that produce those medusae remain mysterious. We don’t have accounts of wild polyps of the box jellies that brutally sting swimmers in Australia every summer, of the spotted jellies that can proliferate into swarms of millions of medusae in the Gulf of Mexico, of the stocky barrel jellyfish that surf the seas of the United Kingdom, or of the invasive nomadic jellyfish that blooms by the kilometre in the eastern Mediterranean.’

We think Berwald is mixing up the terror of estuarine waters along the north Queensland coast with the much more pervasive but far less (but still) deadly bluey (our fave!). In the US, our blueys are their box jellies. Be that as it may, the question is the same: why are they there?

‘Lots of questions remain unanswered,’ Berwald writes. ‘What do wild polyps eat? What east wild polyps? How long do they live? Why do they die? What causes them to clone, to produce podocysts, to produce medusae?’

‘We just don’t know. And that’s eerie,’ Berwald says.


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A real nasty: a box jellyfish. Keep away from this one.

Why are they there?

The question comes to mind for a couple of reasons: we’re coming into summer, and reports of blueys in swimming areas along the coast are re-emerging from their winter slumber; they follow more frequent reports of blueys appearing on beaches in cooler months, even through winter; and an encounter we had last week at Forster, out behind Haydon’s Reef.

We were swimming around the reef last Tuesday, looking to catch up with Fluffy en famille, when suddenly it hove into view: a jellyfish, a stinger, that we’d never seen before. In our waters, you get used to seeing blueys, jimbles, purple people eaters, salps, etc. But this was right out of the ordinary. It sat there, about a metre below the surface, and we didn’t see it till we were right over the top (our habit is to keep our heads down when we swim, so we don’t see a lot ahead; it’s part of the lot of the ageing swimmer: you lose flexibility in your neck). A metre below, it’s not threatening, but as we stopped to look, it started… to move. You notice very quickly how manoeuvrable jellies often are, how deliberate they appear to be. Perhaps they’re just responding to the hydrodynamics of one swimming over them. And believe us, the hydrodynamics of this particular one (us) swimming around the joint are quite definite. Maybe it’s like they’re sucked into our slipstream, and what appears to be them responding and moving deliberately are just involuntary responses caused by the currents.

It does spook you a little, though, and you move back instinctively to put more distance between you and it.

It’s quite a beautiful, dramatic jelly, with lots of fair maiden’s fine hair floating about behind it. We had our Brownie Starflash-in-a-plastic bag with us, so we got a few images on burst at 30 frames over 3 seconds. Plenty of options. We sent an image to the chap at the Australian Museum who we thought would be most appropriate to identify it for us. He got back to us quick and smart, but he said we should send it to Lisa Gershwin, at the University of Tasmania, who is the acknowledged authority on jellyfish, and has produced an app to help us identify them.

We did that as well, and Lisa, too, got back to us quick and smart.

‘Ha! I think that’s one of my babies!!!!!’, Lisa said. ‘It looks like it might be Desmonema scoresbyanna, a species I named and classified around 2008. It is fairly uncommon, known from South Australia through NSW.’ That tallied with a report we’d seen from the local newspaper, the Great Lakes Advocate, in 2016, when it was sighted, apparently for the first time, off the breakwall at Tuncurry, across the lake mouth from Forster.

Lisa was not absolutely sure, though.

‘The reason for my lack of certainty is that the photo is pretty fuzzy, so I can’t make out the defining character, the arrangement of tentacles,’ she told us.

lion s mane jellyfish 300‘Desmonema has tentacle clusters in a straight line, where Cyanea, the lion’s mane, has horseshoe shaped clusters. Every time I’ve seen a milky white lion’s mane, they’ve turned out to be Desmonema. But you just never know, it could be a milky Cyanea.’

We’ve seen several images of the lion’s mane, and it doesn’t look like that to us, although we’re no expert and, depending on the images you’re comparing, we can see how the two might be confused. See for yourselves: compare the image at the top of this page with this one here, at right (lion's mane)…

A lion's mane.

The lion’s mane jellyfish can grow to several metres in girth, and it would be hard to mix them up on that basis. The Desmonema we spotted would have been c. 7-8cm wide in its bell, with gossamer tentacles extending half a metre behind.


Our cobber, Steve White, a Forster Turtle, reckons he was stung by what we saw, also out around Haydon’s Reef, on October 31. Steve normally has his own Brownie Starflash with him, but not on this occasion so he caught no images. He said it gave him a very sharp sting around his mouth. The pain was debilitating and lasted for two hours, although it left him with no scars or other marks. Didn't really matter much with Steve; he's a quiet sort of chap. Meanwhile, the mystery continues.

We took the opportunity of the contact with Lisa to ask her about the bluey: what makes the bluey be there when they are there, ready to be blown into shore by an onshore breeze.

At the time of writing, we haven’t heard back further from Lisa, but we live in hope. We have tried by email to ask her about the bluey a couple of times in the past, but received no response. Perhaps our emails were lost in the cybernet, including yesterday's follow up when we sent her another four images of last week's Desmonema.

Meanwhile, anyone out there who has some reasonably authoritative information or advice, please get in touch. Just so long as it’s more illuminating than, ‘Oh, it’s blown in by the nor’-easters’.

Why do we go on about blueys?

Well, if we have some idea about what make blueys be there, ready to be blown into shore, then maybe we can start to predict their arrival in swimming waters. That could mean swimmers could avoid being stung. And whilst to some punters, getting stung by a bluey is a badge of honour, to others it can endanger their lives.

In Hawai’i a few years back, the organisers of the Waikiki Roughwater swim started to anticipate the arrival of their version of blueys which, as we've noted, they call a box jellyfish, by the proximity to certain moon phases. In a briefing note to entrants in 2014, the Roughwater organisers told punters, ‘We scheduled this race around the box jellyfish window 8-11 days after the full moon and we do not anticipate that they will be around on race day…’

Organisers said this arrival time window had been ‘discovered’ by Dr Gail Grabowsky, and they began to schedule the swim to avoid it where possible. The Waikiki Roughwater always takes place on the first weekend in September, the Labour Day Weekend in the US, officially the end of the summer holidays. Waikiki generally ran on Monday, with the Maui Channel swim on the Saturday. Thence, the two events sometimes swapped days, so that Waikiki could be safer, or at least organisers could try to optimise the chances that it would be safer.

As we say, ‘box jellyfish’ doesn't mean the same thing to ‘Mer’cans as it does to Strã’ans. If we had ‘box jellyfish’ hanging about the swim course, we wouldn’t be starting at all. That said, there are many versions of ‘box jellyfish’. They all appear to be classified as ‘life threatening’ by Dr Gershwin’s app, The Jellyfish App. In Hawai’i, the ‘box jellyfish’ is a form of Irukandji (alatina moseri). (We tried to find out more about blueys (two versions appear to plague our waters, physalia species A – described as ‘rare – or physalia physalis) from the app, but it doesn’t seem to work very well on our iPhone, which carries the latest ios. Our access to information from it was very limited, although it appeared there was more there.) The Jellyfish App, indeed, lists two bluey-like stingers. One, the 'Blue Bottle', is listed as 'Rare', whilst the other, which it lists as 'Portuguese Man-o-war', is what we would refer to as a 'bluebottle'. No-one would refer to our 'Portuguese Man-o-War' as 'rare'.

Anyway, that’s all well and good, but we’re still in the dark about what makes blueys be there when they’re there.

Any advice would be appreciated… Click here

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Fancy running into this on your next early morning swim?… Another lion's mane. Mind you, it could all be in the lens and its depth of field. 

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Gogs prices slashed!

Big response to new season sale

We've had a terrific response to our new season sale of our fave View gogs. We were absolutely inundated with orders after our last newsletter, and now we're all stocked up ready to go again.


Just for November (but on sale now) here are some of our bargains…

Here's the link to order your new gogs. Click now and we'll get them away to you before the weekend… Click here 

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Swim buddy, Heron Island, June, 2021. (Image by Anne Henshaw @annehenshaw)

2022 oceanswimsafaris

New dates open for bookings

What a change comes over the travel environment as vaccination numbers grow! We now are confident that the border crossing into Queensland will reopen by mid-December, making possible our Heron Island oceanswimsafaris from March onwards. We’re also quite confident that travel to Pacific states – specifically French Polynesia, Tonga, and Fiji – will be possible from early-mid 2022, which would open the way for our oceanswimsafaris there in May, August, and September respectively.

We have now posted our 2022 dates and packages for –

  • Heron Island – March 14-19, April 24-May 2 (Full), June 12-17, October 19-24, and November 6-11
  • Tonga – Swim with Whales – August 2-10, August 9-17
  • Mana Fiji – September 13-18 (Packages available soon)

We had to cancel three Heron Island oceanswimsafaris in October/November this year when the Queensland border remained closed, but all those booked have now been rescheduled to oceanswimsafaris next year. (That’s why our April-May Heron oceanswimsafari is already full.)

There are only a few spots left on our March 14-19 Heron Island dates, as well, so if you fancy them, you’d best get in quick and smart.

There is plenty of room left in our June and November dates, and a few spots left in October, but they are filling fast.

We've opened Tonga for bookings. Routes are not open yet, but we're pretty confident. If it turns out we can't get there, we can either refund your deposit or roll over to 2023, or to another oceanswimsafari. We can take only eight per group to Tonga, given boat capacity.

Mana Fiji is confirmed. We expect to have packages online in the next few weeks, so keep your eye out (best not to email yet).

Wow! This is excitement. Movement at last. It's been a long pandemic.

Find out more and book… Click here
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Moody at Bongin Bongin (image by David Helsham @glistenrr)…


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Last modified on Sunday, 28 November 2021 05:49
Paul Ellercamp

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