The north sea

At the start of 2018 I promised myself I would find time to learn a little bit more about each North sea creature I paint.

I'm not a marine biologist, it's just for fun, so here goes...

Name Compass jellyfish 

Chrysaora hysoscelle

Like all jellyfish it’s not a fish it’s a type of plankton, made from over 95% water; they don't have a brain, a heart, bones, or blood.

This is a very common species, it can grow up to 30 cm and is easy to recognise by the brown (I obviously made them blue) v-shaped markings found running from the center of the jellyfish down to the outer edge, they live in cold waters relatively near the coast. Adults can usually be observed near the surface of the water, but when currents become too rough, they are known to dive deeper in the water and can be found just half a meter from the seabed. They often become washed ashore by wind and storms, where they die and we find them on beach walks. When they wash ashore, they can disappear after just a few hours as their bodies evaporate into the air. Jellyfish are propelled through the water by means of pulsations of the bell. The mouth, the only opening to the exterior, (yes-you did read that right) is located on the centre of the underside of the bell, and is surrounded by 4 arms. There are also 24 tentacles around the edge of the bell, grouped in threes. 


A compass jellyfish begins life as a male but eventually turns female in the course of its one year of life! 


Name Barrel jellyfish

Rhizostoma pulmo

It’s an impressive creature with a huge dome, up to 90cm in diameter, which varies in colour, including shades of pale yellow, green and blue!  A blue line runs round the edge of the dome has tiny dots evenly spaced. These sensory statocysts help them work out their orientation in the water. They have four pairs of tentacles containing many very small stinging tentacles with which they trap plankton, feeding them into their digestive system via pores. It’s sting is harmless to humans.

They are commonly found around the British Isles, in the warmer summer months swarms can sometimes be found washed up on the beach. They make a tasty meal for Leatherback Turtles which love to eat them. 


The Barrel jellyfish can play host to amphipods crustaceans up to 1cm long, that hang onto the jelly with spine-like feet, often inside the stomach or reproductive cavities. These can change colour to match the jellyfish tissue to avoid being eaten by fish.  If an over infestation occurs they can kill the jellyfish. 

Name Moon jellyfish 

This design is the Moon Jellyfish, actually there are 13 species of moon jellyfish. All of these look strikingly similar. It is very difficult to identify the species without DNA. Most common of them is the species Aurelia aurita. Occurring in huge numbers, these are the most common Jellyfish found around the UK coasts.

They seem to be very social travelling in groups floating around the oceans. These groups are actually called smacks, blooms, fluther or swarms of jellyfish. Moon jellyfish can barely swim, the jellyfish do have some muscles that can help them move, but only to stay close to the water surface. The way they travel through the oceans is actually by relying on the ocean currents. 


They live for only about a year, reproducing in the summer. Instead of long, trailing tentacles, moon jellies have a short, fine fringe that sweeps food toward the mucous layer on the edges of the bells. The stings are not powerful enough to penetrate human skin, so we cannot feel them. 

Name Lions mane jellyfish 

Cyanea capillata

Also known as the giant jellyfish or the hair jelly it’s the largest known species of jellyfish growing up to 130feet long with 1200 tentacles. The powerful sting of its tentacles catch small fishes, tiny crustaceans and even other jellyfish to satisfy its diet. A single specimen can sting over 50 people.


Lion’s Mane Jellyfish Come in a variety of colours. Large individuals are often red or purple, while smaller specimens tend to be shades of tannish-orange. Lion’s mane jellyfish are continual swimmers that can cover great distances when strong marine currents are present. Most individuals prefer to swim solo, large swarms occasionally occur when storms and tides are prevalent.



The lion’s mane jellyfish also possess bioluminescent abilities, meaning it’s able to produce its own light and glow in the dark underwater.

Name Mauve stinger jellyfish 

Palagia noctiluca

It’s a rare visitor to the UK, the mauve stinger jellyfish is generally found in deeper waters in the Atlantic Ocean. The mauve stinger, however, does seem to be becoming more common in British and Irish waters, possible as a result of global warming. 

As the name implies the colour is usually mauve, pinkish or purple and bioluminescent light can be produced by this species. Light is given off in the form of flashes when stimulated by the turbulence of a ship’s motion or by waves. This flashing is short, and gradually fades. 

They feed on small mid-water creatures such as crustaceans as well as plankton. 


Though these jellies are quite small, measuring just a few inches across the bell, they have extremely painful stinging cells on their tentacles. 

Name Sardines

The name ‘Sardine’, is a generic term referring to about 20 various small oily fish within the herring family, the Latin name of this family of fish is Clupeidae. Also in this family are the menhadens, pilchards and shads, in total it contains 216 species. They are a really important part of the oceanic food chain and can form schools of up to 10 million fish. Sardines shoal closely together minimising their chances of being taken by predators. They are commonly found all over the world. 

Sardines are named after the Mediterranean island of Sardinia where they were first canned. They are commercially fished for a variety of uses: for bait; for fresh fish markets; for drying, salting, or smoking; and for reduction into fish meal


With a life span of up to 13 years, the majority of sardines are less than 6 years old. Sardines can grow to about 1.3 feet long, but typical sizes are less than 9 inches. 

Name Sprats 

Sprats is the name applied to a group of forage fish Sprattus sprattus. The term is also is applied to a number of other small sprat-like forage fish. Like most forage fishes, sprats are highly active, small oily fish. They travel in huge shoals with other fish and swim continuously throughout the day, often travelling to depths of 150m. 

 They live for about five to seven years, measuring on average 10 cm.

Sprats live along the Atlantic shore but can also be found in the North Sea, the Mediterranean and the Black Sea.

They are extremely nutritious and tasty but one factor which may put many people off eating sprats is the fact that they are frequently eaten whole, without even being gutted.


Sprats are beautifully shiny silver to grey in colour. Did you know, fish scales are sometimes added to cosmetics such as lipstick and nail polish to give it the same shimmering effect that they give the fish.  Of course, you won’t find it listed in the ingredients. The silvery fish scales are ground into a shimmery additive for cosmetics and called ‘pearl essence’ or ‘pearlescence’.

Name Velvet swimming crab

Necora puber

Crabs belong to a group of animals called ‘Decapods’ meaning ‘10 legs’. Crabs are encased in a hard, protective shell (exoskeleton) which acts like a suit of armour often with spines or teeth.  They have a pair of claws which they use to catch, chop and crush prey. The claws are also used to fight or communicate. There are more than 62 species of crab found in British waters and approximately 4,500 known types of crab worldwide.

This crab is the ‘Velvet Swimming Crab’ and is found throughout European waters. They grow up to 9cm and live for around four to five years. They are covered in fine hairs called setae to detect chemicals, touch and movement, giving this crab a velvet feel to the touch. With bright red eyes it defends itself aggressively, leading to its other common name the devil crab.

Did you know a group of crabs is called a ‘cast’ and that crabs blood is actually blue due to the copper it contains. 


Name Edible crab

Cancer pagurus

There are more than 62 species of crab found in British waters and approximately 4,500 known types of crab worldwide. This is the Edible Crab and grows up to 27cm. This crab is a large species of crab found all around the British Isles. It is extremely commercially valuable meaning that a significant fishery has built up to catch this species. They are caught by lowering baited crab pots into the sea. 

Crabs are encased in a hard, protective shell (exoskeleton) which acts like a suit of armour often with spines or teeth.  They have a pair of claws which they use to catch, chop and crush prey. The claws are also used to fight or communicate. As crabs grow they moult their hard shell after a new, soft shell has developed underneath. 


It is easy to tell the difference between female and male crabs. If you turn the crab over you will see a flap or tail known as the abdominal flap. Males generally have narrow, thin flaps, whilst females have wider, more rounded flaps used to carry and protect eggs.