Unusual creature on Ballina beach stirs curiosity
BALLINA'S Lesley Noakes got quite a surprise when she came across a brightly coloured but unusual creature on Ballina's Flat Rock Beach last Thursday.
She made the find while walking with her grandkids.
"We came across this brilliant blue creature floating in the water," she said.
What she found was a blue dragon, or Glaucus atlanticus, which feeds on bluebottles.
It has often reported the blue dragon is rare, but that is a myth Professor Steve Smith is quick to dispel.
"The reality is they're not rare but they're very sporadic in the way they wash up onshore."
The professor, director of the National Marine Science Centre at Southern Cross University's Coffs Harbour campus, said the university had received reports of blue dragons washing up onshore up and down the east coast due to current wind and sea conditions.
Often the dragons washed up during protracted periods of onshore winds.
He said many beachgoers would not notice the blue dragon if the small creature washed up with bluebottles.
Also, he said because they were actually a sea slug that swallowed an air bubble so it could float to the surface and feed while upside down, that air bubble could heat and cause the animal to pop.
"They degrade very quickly," Prof Smith said.
Like other species of nudibranch or sea slug, there was plenty of opportunity to learn more about the blue dragon.
But he said the frequency of beachings was not good.
"It's notable when you get really big strandings."
Lesley chose to pick the creature up with a bucket, which is lucky because the blue dragon, while it doesn't breathe fire, can sting to the same extent as a bluebottle.
But Prof Smith handled many and never been stung.
Lesley took the dragon home to do more research before letting it go.
She said she'd never seen one before in a "lifetime of going to the beach".
Prof Smith said the creatures often sparked curiosity as people were fascinated by them.
"They are an exquisite- looking species," he said.