(Above) Ocean sunfish © Chris Fryatt
(Below) Minke whale & Bottlenose dolphins © Eleanor Stone/Manx Wildlife Trust, Sea gooseberry © Julie Hatcher
When there are lots of jellyfish around we often ask people to look out for some of their predators that might follow behind. This year we have been rewarded with several sightings of Ocean Sunfish, a bizarre-looking animal that sometimes visits our shores during the summer months to feed on jellyfish and other plankton. These are animals that may be seen from boats when they come to the surface. They lie on their side as they bask in the sun, looking like a round dustbin lid or millstone (the scientific name, Mola mola, means millstone). This basking is possibly a method of warming up their bodies after a deep dive or may be to attract seabirds to clean them by pecking off parasites. Three sunfish were reported by a group of kayakers near Swanage on 5th July while a local fisherman saw a sunfish breaching (leaping clear of the water) just outside Kimmeridge Bay.
You can watch film of the Swanage encounter at https://vimeo.com/132691050 with thanks to Steve Jones and Mark Rainsley for filming and sharing it.
On the 28th June a local boat skipper was treated to an encounter with a Minke Whale just half a mile off Peveril Ledge in Swanage. It was also seen breaching and tail-slapping by volunteers at the Coastwatch Station on Peveril Point. The Minke Whale is the smallest member of the rorqual family of baleen whales, averaging at just 7m long; the largest is the Blue Whale. Minkes can be distinguished from other baleen whales by their relatively small size and white bands on their flippers. They feed on plankton and small fish, filtering them from the water using bristly baleen plates instead of teeth. While these animals have been seen at Swanage before, it is a rare encounter.
A group of around 20 bottlenose dolphins treated boaters, kayakers and cliff-walkers over several days at the end of June and beginning of July and a number of reports were sent to us. The group, including youngsters, were spotted all along the coast from Portland to Bournemouth, sometimes just 100m from the shoreline. They were seen close to the Minke Whale and on some occasions were seen breaching.
Barrel jellyfish have continued to frequent our coastline with thousands drifting along just offshore and hundreds more washing up onto the county’s beaches. In the water they are graceful and mesmerising whilst on the beach it is sad to see them stranded out of water. Compass jellyfish have also been spotted by snorkelers and divers at Chesil Cove along with a few blue and moon jellyfish. Some of them were possibly feeding on the abundance of sea gooseberries in the water, also called comb jellies. These tiny animals measuring up to 10mm wide are completely transparent apart from the 8 rows of beating hairs that look like combs and reflect the light in a rainbow of colours. You can view the different types of jellyfish you might find on our Jellyfish Detective Guide.