I’m on the road today, taxiing my eldest daughter back to the North East from Royal Holloway University in Surrey, so forgive me for writing this yesterday.
The high winds have brought high seas, which means that there is a lot being deposited at the high water mark.
Those helpful people at the RNLI lookout cabin have posted a notice for passers-by to read that warns of two threats to your enjoyment of the beach; one is that jellyfish are particularly prevalent at the moment, and the other is that there are “weaver fish” (sic) in the area. Now this is the same beach that I grew up with, paddled in, and occasionally swam in (really, it’s not that warm), and whilst there have always been occasions when the beach has been littered with stranded jellies, I have never encountered a weever fish.
These little beauties bury themselves in the sand and complete their defence with a row of poisonous spines. The name weever (not weaver) is probably derived from the French word for serpent “wivre” and the sting, which is extremely painful, has been mistaken for a snake bite.
Now when I was small we walked the beach barefoot, so I can only assume that finding weevers here is a recent development. We did have plastic beach sandals (called jellies because of their construction material, not their purpose) but these were largely reserved for going rock pooling.
The jellyfish too are more plentiful now than they used to be, not just locally, but in all of the waters around the UK. There are three reasons for this, and directly or indirectly we are to blame for all of them. The first is the seepage of excess fertilizer from our farms into our watercourses and ultimately into the sea, where the growth of plankton is boosted, providing jellyfish with a plentiful supply of food.
The second reason is down to our overfishing of the same seas. We have removed the predators that would once have eaten the jellyfish and kept their populations in check. Finally the climate change resulting from global warming is putting pressure on many species, but the jellyfish seem are thriving because they are more adaptable.
So our beach problems are largely self-inflicted and they don’t end there. Torness nuclear power plant was forced to shut down when the water intake became blocked with a bloom of jellyfish. The cleaning operation required them to remove several tonnes of jelly.
This is one of the most remarkable things about the creatures; their composition. Just as our brains are a mysterious piece of tissue that have no mechanical function to observe with the naked eye, so this entire creature mysteriously lacks the systems we expect to find in animals; respiratory, digestive, central nervous system and so on. It doesn’t seem to have hampered them as they pulse along, paralysing and then absorbing the nutrients from their prey.
Since I had an old pair of trainers on, I went in search of these creatures at the water’s edge where the only creature deposited was a dead shag.
Luckily I did find Wilf who became my portrait today.
Postscript – clearly the journey has befuddled my brain; forgetting that I had written this I spotted Dave, his features sculpted by an overhead light at Woodall Services on the way back home. Be a shame not to include him too!