Jellyfish Spark Fear in Beachgoers
CHARLESTON, SC (WTAT-TV) – CHANDLER SPEARMAN
Mention the word jellyfish at the beach and it can spark fear and confusion out of nearly any beachgoer. But what are the facts? Do all jellyfish hurt you? What can you do to prevent and mitigate stings?
Numerous types of jellyfish appear on Charleston’s beaches and many of them won’t be too bothersome. The most common type of jellyfish you will probably see, both on the beach itself and in the water is the Cannonball Jelly. These have a round pale bell usually with a dark band near the lip. They have no dangling tentacles but do have a large dangling feeding structure. Many species are not venomous at all, and some people feel comfortable picking them up and returning them to the water, but caution should be exercised as some of them can deliver a mild toxin.
Other jellyfish project mild stings and light treatment generally negates any ill effects. Some species that belong in this category are: The Lion’s Mane Jelly which has a thin bell, a large feeding structure and eight clusters of long wispy tentacles; The Mushroom Jelly which closely resembles a Cannonball but can have tentacle like appendages branching down from the feeding structure (not from the bell lip!); and the Moon Jelly, a jellyfish resembling a transparent frisbee with what some call a “four leafed clover” sitting directly in its center.
There are some jellyfish to avoid as stings from these animals have left people hospitalized. The most common of these is probably the Sea Nettle, a Jelly with a brown or pale bell that has thin tentacles extending from the lip of the bell and four thicker (some say “fluffier”) oral arms dangling from the center. The Sea Wasp is actually the most venomous jellyfish and can deal a severe sting. It’s notable for its box shaped shell, with four clusters of tentacles hanging from its corners rather than around the whole lip.
The most venomous sting however, belongs to the Portuguese Man-of-War. This animal is actually a Hydrozoan (a relative) and like the ship it is named after, it is the result of a large team of different organisms working to make a more formidable whole. Easily noticed by the large blue tinted float/sail/inflated sac it uses to stay on the surface, it has many very painful tentacles dangling underneath. These tentacles, like any other animal on this list can still be harmful for quite a while after being washed ashore and even after the animal’s death so you should never attempt to touch or remove the jellyfish yourself. A good rule of thumb is that any jellyfish with long dangling tentacles should probably be avoided, and additionally if you spot any kind of blue colored bubble, sail, or float with trailing tentacles you should also steer clear.
If you have a run in while at the beach, there are ways to treat jellyfish stings quickly and easily. Two things should be noted before discussing treatments, 1. Do NOT use FRESH water to wash the tentacles away as this can just increase the affected area 2. Do NOT use urine or alcohol to wash the affected area as it will only cause more problems. If you have been stung you should get out of the water and attempt to carefully remove the tentacles, avoiding touching them with your hands by using any materials available like seaweed or a nearby towel (important to note that whatever you use to remove the tentacles should not be touched again until washed thoroughly as it could have picked up some of the venomous stinging cells called Nematocysts). The affected area can then be washed with several things, vinegar being the most common. Other remedies like baking soda, sugar and soothing gels like aloe vera report varying degrees of success. In the days following the sting it helps to rub a Corticosteroid like Hydrocortisone on the affected area to reduce pain. Any stings that cause allergic reactions or cause problems beyond the sting site should seek the help of medical professionals.
A vast majority of stings aren’t harmful at all however and only cause mild irritation. All you need to do to prepare yourself is add a bottle of vinegar to your beach bag and have a keen eye.
Chandler Spearman is a guest contributor for FOX24 and has a passion for the environment and the preservation of the Lowcountry waterways.
To read his story about Fish Fraud in the Lowcountry, click HERE