'There's all these things living out there that we know very little about'

OCEAN'S mystery: Beachcomber John Miller from Port Fairy is discovering plenty of interesting items washed onto the shoreline. Picture: Anthony Brady
OCEAN'S mystery: Beachcomber John Miller from Port Fairy is discovering plenty of interesting items washed onto the shoreline. Picture: Anthony Brady

WHEN a storm blows out and the waves calm on the south-west coastline, beachcombers appear to scan the sand hoping to glimpse marine life washed up from kilometres out to sea.

John Miller has combed the beaches weekly for three years and stumbled across a rarely seen one-metre female blanket octopus on Port Fairy's Little East Beach in April.

Museums Victoria took a keen interest in the discovery and found weather conditions likely behind a number of open-ocean dwelling specimens washed up on south-west beaches.

Mr Miller said the octopus was his "most spectacular" discovery, but he also sighted a starry toadfish earlier this year and Southern Ocean prion birds such as shearwaters and petrels washed up after storms.

He even found a lump of coal believed to be washed up from a shipwreck with evidence that marine animals lived in it.

"You find little penguins, one or two of them," Mr Miller said. "Last year there was a crabeater seal, quite a healthy one arrived at South Beach. Usually it lives on the ice floats off the coast of Antarctica."

John Miller shares his beach discoveries. Video: Anthony Brady

He said exactly why certain specimens washed up was a mystery and a changing climate, tides and seasonal weather were all possibilities.

"The ocean seems to be very episodic," Mr Miller said. "You have a lot of things wash in then you don't see them for two or three years again."

Museums Victoria marine expert Julian Finn said he was surprised the blanket octopus, along with two others sighted near Geelong, had washed up on south-west beaches.

"I might get one or two every five years. They rarely wash up," Dr Finn said.

Octopus: A rarely seen blanket octopus was sighted on Port Fairy's East Beach in April. Picture: John Miller

Octopus: A rarely seen blanket octopus was sighted on Port Fairy's East Beach in April. Picture: John Miller

He said there was a connection between the washed up blanket octopuses and sightings of another octopus species called an argonaut, known for its striking shell, on south-west beaches.

"They live in the surface level of open oceans and they tend to be impacted by the wind," Dr Finn said.

"They can't fight against the wave action and they get washed up."

He said weather had likely washed up other specimens not reported to the museum.

"I would anticipate there would be other oceanic fauna that's there. Often these things are small," Dr Finn said.

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Mr Miller, who leads a Port Fairy Community House beachcombers group, said he stumbled across specimens big and small, including abalone shells, different sized cuttlefish, and hard sea urchins.

"I am most interested in shells. It's seaweed, it's animals and these odd balls that come in like the violet snails that float around on the surface of the ocean. Animals, plants, anything that comes along," he said.

The former botanist is intrigued by the natural world and said he was drawn to the ocean's mystery.

"I stand at South Beach and look out, and there's nothing between us and Antarctica, and there's all these things living out there that we know very little about," Mr Miller said.

"It's very interesting what comes in and all of it is basically new."