Those who first spotted the jellyfish which washed up on Mumbai’s Dadar Chowpatty last Thursday must have been struck by the sight of the delicate-looking creatures. With a translucent blue head and a peacock blue tentacle, the Blue Bottle Jellyfish is one of the most sought-after beauties of the water world. No less is the delicate-looking Box Jellyfish, a relatively developed invertebrate that is as dangerous as it is beautiful.
Jellyfish are no strangers to the shores of Mumbai, particularly during this time of the year, explains marine conservationist Pradip Patade.
Patade, who has been studying the movements of these species in Mumbai for the last couple of years, says, “They (jellyfish) are quick to defend themselves against perceived danger but are also among the most beautiful creatures in our waters. They move mostly in groups and are a grand sight with their long, delicate tentacles and translucent bladders.”
These invertebrates are accompanied by stingrays, that were also spotted at Dadar, Juhu and Girgaum Chowpatty last week. “Due to the warm sea waters, such marine life is attracted to our shores. This is the time, especially, when baby stingrays move towards shallow waters to feed on shrimp that are abundant in the area,” he says.
The emergence of these marine species along Mumbai’s shores coincided with the annual Ganpati festival this year around, and civic officials were quick to respond to the sightings. Some of the preventive measures undertaken by the BMC were to bar devotees from entering the water themselves to perform the “visarjan” ceremony, and to appoint trained staff to immerse idols instead. The civic body also put up boards cautioning visitors against the stingers that lay just under the surface of the water.
Such precautions are necessary. Believed to be among the most venomous marine species, the Blue Bottle is a smaller cousin of the much-feared Portuguese Man O’ War. Its body is made up of a gas-filled bladder (head) that keeps it floating on the surface of water bodies, and it uses its venomous tentacle for self-defence and hunting. The Box Jellyfish is characterised by a cube-shaped head and has the ability to propel itself forward. Its venom is capable of causing extreme pain and even death to humans.
Unlike the jellyfish, which are visually striking, stingrays can easily stay concealed in the sand, thanks to their flat bodies. This, as much as their venomous sting, is what makes the stingrays dangerous to those who wade into shallow waters without taking precautions. “When there is a low tide, people venture further onto the seabed, and this is where the stingrays settle down for the season. So people get stung when they step on the rays,” says Patade.
Like with all living creatures, the jellyfish and stingray have as much, or perhaps more, to fear from us than we do from them. This is largely due to pollution and ecological destruction that occurs along the shores of large urban centres like Mumbai. The rise in pollution during festivals like Ganesh Chaturthi when toxic paints and POP make their way into the seas, is especially harmful to marine biodiversity.