Everyone likes a peculiar-looking, washed up creature on a beach. Well, except for the creatures themselves, presumably, whose final journeys clearly didn’t end in the most ideal manner. The latest example comes courtesy of New Zealand and features an animal that has been varyingly described as a biological “volcano” to, of course, an “alien”.
It is neither of these things, but it certainly stands out as being aesthetically arresting. That was probably what was on the mind of the family walking along the beach in north Auckland earlier this month when they first serendipitously stumbled across the monstrous beastie.
According to Stuff.co.nz, Eve Dickinson, a member of said family, noted her son thought it looked like a volcano, which to be fair, it does – more like a bubble tea version, though. It was clearly a jellyfish of some kind, but was it something rare, perhaps a critter from the deepest depths of the enigmatic Pacific Ocean?
Sadly not. Verified by a marine biology technician, it happens to be a lion’s mane jellyfish, a fairly common sight in New Zealand’s coastal waters during the warmer summer months. Saying that, September – the end of winter, start of spring in the Southern Hemisphere – is an early time for said jellyfish type to make an appearance. The same was said of a similar incident back in 2017.
This is one of the largest species of jellyfish around, perhaps even the largest. They’ve got a huge distribution – they can be found in parts of the Pacific, within the Arctic and northern Atlantic, and more.
They use their tentacles, from which their colloquial name is derived, to grab prey. They have toxin-containing nematocysts that are able to stun fairly large fishes, so best keep your own limbs away should you ever see one of these along the coast.
Said tentacles, by the way, can reach up to 58 meters across (190 feet). In fact, they’re never not gigantic, at least by our standards. Even their bell (the main part of their body) is around 2 meters (7 feet) across. All in all, their dimensions, per Oceana, can occasionally rival that of the blue whale, which is quite famously the largest animal in the world.
Overfishing, pollution, and anthropogenic climate change are thought to be inadvertently making things more comfortable for these squiggly beasties in general. It's not clear how these specific, cold-water dwelling jellyfish are dealing with warmer waters, but our actions might mean they increasingly have access to more prey, or perhaps find it easier to catch their prey, while also reducing predator numbers.