Living by the coast and spending so much time on, in or by the sea you always imagine that any day soon something formidable, unusual or iconic will wash up on your shores or swim before your very eyes. Well for me today was not that day but for my daughter & husband it was! They were down by the Quay on the Avon estuary when they saw what looked like a small inflated balloon floating past. They immediately recognised it as a Portuguese Man-Of-War and somehow (I would not advise this) scooped it into a bucket. Then another family brought theirs over and they arrived home to a very shocked me with a bucket full of Portuguese Man-Of-War!
They are beautiful creatures, although we know them to be harmful and occasionally deadly. In reality they are also very stunning. Their balloon like float was a blue/purple tinged bubble with incredible spiral "springy" tentacles which boinged up and down like a coiled spring. I was completely mesmerised. You see photos of creatures such as these but in reality they are just so incredible and awe inspiring!
So what are they? Jellyfish they are not - they are in fact a great example of team work. They are a "siphonophore" and are made up of 4 individual animals with 4 individual functions that are merged to create one animal. They use their stings to prey on small fish and shrimps and catch them through paralysis. They don't, as some might imagine, have stings to purposefully set out to find naked skin and sting - it is just a highly advanced adaptation to catching prey in a mobile and aquatic environment. They use their gas filled chamber quite literally as a sail to blow their way across our oceans in great swarms. Normally, they are found in tropical and sub-tropical waters but occasionally individuals get blown off course and end up in foreign waters such as the 2 found in Bantham today.
The venom is harmful and tentacles and the animal should be avoided. If you do get contact seek immediate medical advice. At this stage there is no need to worry about them in our waters...but be aware, be careful and inform a lifeguard if you see one.