This year, picking my way through the detritus of the storms, the plight of the jellyfish felt somehow more apt, more meaningful and perhaps a lot closer to homeby Cal Flyn / October 5, 2020 / Leave a comment
The wonderful thing about living on an island is that there are endless opportunities to swim. In recent months, I’ve been overtaken by sudden urges to shed my clothes and slip into the sea, like a selkie in reverse. The waters are cold, of course—this being the wild Atlantic or the North Sea, depending on which coast I find myself on—but still so much warmer than in winter as to feel a blessed relief.
Warmer waters bring their own hazards, however. As temperatures heated up back in the summer, the jellyfish proliferated. When striking out from shore, you have to stay alert. They drift by like Chinese lanterns beneath the waves. Lion’s mane jellyfish have been our most common sighting this year: clear lozenges the size of dinner plates, trailing streamers of burnt orange, plum and burgundy. Avoid them: they can give you a nasty sting. But if you do manage to keep your distance, they are fascinating creatures to watch.
Last week, when we clambered down to swim in the deep, still waters of a narrow inlet, we found ourselves sharing this sheltered pool with a single lion’s mane, which pulsed gently around the perimeter, opening and closing like a set of bellows. As it approached, we would withdraw and wait for it to pass by—quite harmless, moving at a tranquil, meandering pace. Certainly unaware of our presence. Jellyfish have no eyes, no ears, no brain, no heart. Still, they seem to do alright—most of the time.
This lack of perception does leave them vulnerable, however. After a stormy night, we’ll often discover dozens of them washed up on the beach, their gelatinous, almost formless, bodies melting away into the pebbles. A few years ago, near Torridon, we rounded a rocky headland to find the cove beyond filled with a thousand moon jellyfish or more—what is called a “bloom.” Each frosted disc bore four pale “eyes” (in reality sexual organs) and the whole conglomeration of creatures had been set whirling and swirling in the waves, coming together and apart, to create an iterative, almost hallucinogenic effect like that of a hall of mirrors. It was a strange and beautiful sight. But…