21 February 2007

Blueys At The Beach

Just when I'd finally begun getting used to the idea that at any moment a great white shark might rear up from the depths and bite me in half while I was having a pleasant afternoon swim comes this new menace: a plague of bluebottle jellyfish, also known as stingers or "blueys" (as opposed to a "blue," which is Aussie for a raging argument, aka a "barney" in England and I don't remember what in the USA).

The bluebottles often come drifting in on the tide in late summer, or whenever the winds consistently blow from the northeast, which they tend to do a lot at this time of year. I'd seen a couple dead blueys washed up on the shore in the past, but was never quite sure if they were what I thought they were, but I arrived at one of my usual beach haunts the day before yesterday to find not only half a dozen or so of the slimy things expiring on the sand, but an elderly gentleman patrolling up and down the sand (in the nude, no less) with a large stick. He was catching the bluebottles as they drifted near shore by easing the stick under their tentacles, then transporting them over to a nearby rock where he'd use the sharp end of the stick to crush them into a gooey, viscous pulp.

A few people were still braving the water for brief swims, but all the while casting their eyes around for the telltale blue head rising ever so slightly above the water's surface. I went in myself for a total of about two minutes each time, but that was about it, and the following day I upped sticks for a more sheltered beach that at least so far hasn't seen any stingers this summer. Unfortunately it's also the beach where the enormous great white shark was spotted last week, but he seems to have been lying low ever since consuming that dog and pelican (sounds like the name of a traditional English pub, no?), and I had a very nice swim there, marred only by the yobbos who parked their enormous cabin cruiser in the middle of the swimming area and then proceeded to drink and swear the afternoon away for the edification of everyone on the what otherwise would have been utterly tranquil beach. The problem was compounded by their deciding to play a top 40 radio station at top volume, which of course meant their conversation had to be conducted at shouting level, even though they were sitting within a couple feet of each other.

I thought of tossing a few well-placed rocks, but the fact is, people just tend to accept that sort of behaviour (the loud obnoxious bit, not the rock throwing) here. An Aussie's boat, just like his home or his car, is his castle, and he can do whatever he wants with it, regardless of the impact on anyone else. So while I would have been met with great disapproval (and probably even greater violence) if I'd tossed some rocks, if I'd gone out and bought an even bigger boat, parked it right next to the offending parties, and made even more noise, I'd be totally in tune with the Aussie way of doing things. Never mind, though; the beach was still great, and made even greater by my awareness that it's not too much longer before I return to the still cold and grey streets of New York City. So I will enjoy the beach while I can, yobbos or no yobbos.

Oh, and before I forget, while dodging bluebottles at the other beach, I witnessed another phenomenon for the first time: huge schools of jumping - not quite flying, but almost - fish attacking even huger schools of minnows only a couple metres offshore. At first I saw only a rapid-fire series of splashes, almost as though somebody had fired grapeshot into the sea, and wondered if there was a shark beneath the surface making all that ruckus. But at the same time, I noticed a brown swirling cloud that I thought might be seaweed but turned out to be hundreds of thousands of minnows swimming at breakneck speed.

Swimming for their lives, it turned out, because right on their heels (metaphorically, I'm afraid, because although they were moving far too fast for me to examine closely, I'm fairly sure they didn't really have heels) were a few dozen even faster fish, about 30 cm or one foot in length, that were tearing into the minnow cloud and, presumably, devouring sizable chunks of it. So agitated were they in the chase and consumption that they'd break through the surface and go slightly airborne for a split second before diving back down and continuing the hunt. But in that moment I was able to see that they were a brilliant, almost fluorescent green. Incredibly beautiful, though I wouldn't have thought the minnows shared my appreciation for the colour scheme of their predators.

It occurred to me, though I couldn't prove it by research, being unable even to identify the fish involved by name, that very possibly the minnows and big fish were all of the same species, were perhaps even parent and child, and that this merry life-and-death chase goes on constantly, with those minnows fast or lucky enough to survive eventually joining the predator half of the continuum and devouring the next generation of minnows. I always suspected that fish weren't quite the models of moral probity that some animal rights protesters might make them out to be, just as I've pointed out - to the disapproval and disdain of those same animalians - that birds as a genus weren't particularly nice, either.

Anyway, it makes me feel a little bit less queasy about eating fish, though I hold fast to my principles about not eating sharks or any other fish or mammal that is capable of eating me. I think I'll lay off the bluebottle jellyfish, too, although one boy recently very nearly did swallow one, and probably would have died if he had. Otherwise bluebottle stings aren't normally fatal (unlike the sting ray that felled crocodile hunter Steve Irwin, or the box jellyfish that I believe mostly hang out farther north), just very, very painful. Or so I've been told, and I'd prefer to take people's word for it and not have to find out for myself.

1 comment:

nijoli said...

Let's head down to The Dog and Pelican for a couple of Red Stripes! That really made me giggle.

The Blues are really pretty, at least, and this blog made me long for splashing around in an ocean.