A walker on the beach at Raversijde in Ostend last weekend came upon a rare sight in those parts: a jellyfish last seen on Belgian shores more than a century ago.
The Portuguese Man o’ War (Physalia physalis) is more usually found in warmer waters. The last one seen in Belgium was sighted off the coast of Knokke in 1912.
The jellyfish has long tentacles and delivers a painful sting, whose venom is powerful enough to kill its prey, and sometimes also humans.
In fact it is not a genuine jellyfish, but a collection of polyps which function together in a symbiotic relationship.
The name comes from the animal’s resemblance to a warship of the same name, from the time of sailing ships.
The genus Physalia only has two members, the Atlantic and Pacific varieties, the latter also known as Blue Bottles. The Atlantic variety is found in the Atlantic and Indian oceans, where it drifts at the mercy of the tides, having no means of self-propulsion.
It is, however, a formidable predator, with tentacles that can grow up to 40m long, and a venom that kills fish immediately. Humans who are stung rarely die, but the venom causes respiratory distress, abdominal pain, fever, dizziness and vomiting.
Beachcomber Nathalie Colpaert came across the creature as it lay dead on the beach.
“[The jellyfish] is normally found in warmer waters, but was also spotted last year before the coast of Mallorca and Ibiza,” she posted to Facebook.
“There have also been reports of sightings in Great Britain and France. Thanks to the storms, this is the first sighting [since 1912] in Belgium.”
The Brussels Times