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By Sarah J. Dodd

As the summer holidays approach and the warm weather draws us towards the beach, it is worth remembering that we are not the only species attracted by warmth and salty water.

At this time of year, great numbers of jellyfish may amass in large ‘blooms’ – and they have already been reported, coming to a beach near you.

There are several species of jellyfish that occur in British waters and one of them – the beautiful, almost ghostly, moon jellyfish – has been sighted in large numbers off the Cumbrian coast. This species may grow from 5cm to 40cm across, and is easily recognisable by the four horseshoe shapes in the centre of the translucent bell. Common in harbours, moon jellyfish usually stay near the surface and move with the tides. Consequently they can often be found washed up on Cumbrian beaches.

Though jellyfish are intriguing to look at, it is not advisable to touch one with bare hands. The moon jellyfish may deliver a mild sting, but another species, the lion’s mane jellyfish, packs a lot more punch. Some sources suggest that the diameter of its ‘bell’ may be over 2m, and that the tentacles may be over 40 m long, making the lion’s mane jellyfish a serious contender for the biggest animal on earth, comparable with the blue whale! Fortunately for us, the specimens that inhabit the cooler waters of the Irish Sea are much smaller. However, their sting can still cause significant health issues in humans. Blisters, muscular cramps, respiratory distress and even heart problems may be seen in severe cases.

Marine conservationists advise that jellyfish should only be touched with a stick, or while wearing thick rubber gloves. Any serious stings should receive medical attention at once. Lesser stings can be treated with ice, which will significantly reduce skin pain in most cases. 

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