The fried egg jellyfish (Cotylorhiza tuberculata) has been spotted over the last few days at Zurrieq and reported by Mark Anthony Falzon as part of the Spot the Jellyfish campaign. The fried egg jellyfish has a bell measuring just 45mm in diameter.
Testimony to the precise timing of the occurrence of the fried egg jellyfish swarms, the species is also known in Maltese as ‘tal-lampuki” (in clear reference to the dolphin fish, which is caught at this time of year) as well by the descriptive monicker of “qassata”, which is a traditional Maltese pastry.
Despite its size, the fried egg jellyfish is innocuous and its occurrence is short-lived, normally extending till the start of October at most. The species, with its purple, bulbous tentacles and a dark yellow bell which can reach a diameter of 30cm, is popular with divers and snorkelers and should not be persecuted, especially since it is a non-stinging species. Yet another gelatinous species showing perfect timing in its annual appearance is Velella velella (By-the-wind sailot), which occurs almost exclusively in springtime, normally over the April-June period.
Interestingly enough, juveniles of mackerel are frequently observed sheltering amongst the purple-tipped tentacles of the jellyfish. Way back in 1977, Guido Lanfranco reported the occurrence of large numbers of the fried egg jellyfish in Maltese bays, especially in those facing the south and south-east. So far, the size of fried egg jellyfish aggregations so far are nowhere near the staggering dimensions of those observed in September 2009, when such swarms were the largest observed in recent years. A total of 14 gelatinous plankton species have been recorded so far as part of the Spot the Jellyfish initiative.
The campaign has been monitoring closely the abundance of jellyfish numbers in Maltese waters over the past three years and will release by the end of this summer figures illustrating the variability in jellyfish numbers and in different species over the 2010-2012 period. In recent weeks, the campaign has also been conducting a socio-economic survey of the impact of jellyfish blooms (the first such exhaustive survey to be conducted locally), results of which will be released by the end of the year.
Over 15 different gelatinous plankton species have been recorded so far by the Spot the Jellyfish initiative, which is coordinated by Dr. Alan Deidun, Prof. Aldo Drago and staff of IOI-MOC, and enjoys the support of the Malta Tourism Authority (MTA) and of Nature Trust, Friends of the Earth, EkoSkola, Sharklab and the Blue Flag Malta programme.
The initiative follows a citizen science approach and relies on the collaboration of the general public, mariners, divers, and especially the younger generations through their teachers and parents, by recruiting their assistance in recording the presence and location of different jellyfish through the use of a dedicated colourful reporting leaflet. The leaflet is being widely distributed, and can be directly downloaded from www.ioikids.net/jellyfish, which is replete with snippets and anecdotes about different jellyfish species. With the support of MTA, large posters have furthermore been projected on boards along major bays on both islands.
The reporting is done by simply matching the sighted jellyfish with a simple visual identification guide, giving the date and time of the sighting, and indicating the number of jellies seen. Sightings can be also reported online or submitted through an SMS on 79 222 278, or by sending an email message to firstname.lastname@example.org. Strange jellyfish not included on the leaflet should be caught and kept in a bucketful of seawater prior to contacting IOI-MOC staff (email@example.com) for retrieval to attempt a definite identification of the species. If this is not possible, photos of the same individuals should be taken.
Since the inception of the campaign in May 2010, ca. 800 records of different jellyfish species have been submitted by the public, and can be viewed online on a summary map (http://18.104.22.168/jellyfish/stats.html) which depicts jellyfish occurrence and distribution.