Thousands of Man-of-Wars take over Florida beaches
“Central and south Florida beaches are seeing what looks like blue balloons wash up on shore but beware of the sting,” warns Ellsworth Buck, Vice President of GreatFlorida Insurance, Florida’s largest independent boat insurance agency.
Strong east winds along with ocean currents are propelling thousands of Portuguese man-of-wars toward Florida’s east coast beaches, from Jacksonville to the Florida Keys. Lifeguards are flying purple flags to warn beach goers of the “dangerous marine life.” Over the weekend, hundreds of people were treated for stings.
What is a Portuguese man-of-war?
Usually found in groups of 1,000 or more, Portuguese man-of-wars are often mistaken for jellyfish. According to National Geographic, it is a siphonophore, an animal made up of a colony of individual organisms. The typical size measures 12 inches long, 5 inches wide with long, thin tentacles that can extend up to 165 feet. The tentacles contain stinging nematocysts, venom-injecting capsules, used to paralyze and kill fish and other small creatures. It has a balloon like gas-filled bladder that sits above the water. The man-of-war can come in purple, pink or blue.
The man-of-war sting is agonizingly painful but rarely deadly. Even though they are washed up on shore they can still sting for up to a week. Severe stings can trigger chest pain, difficulty breathing even death. More commonly, they cause pain for 20-40 minutes and welts. They can be especially dangerous to those who are allergic, which are people who also suffer from bee sting allergies.
How to treat the sting
“Do not buy into the misinformation of popular urban myths that suggest treating the sting by applying alcohol, urine, baking soda, shaving cream,” cautions Buck, with GreatFlorida Insurance, Florida’s top independent boat insurance agency.
Researchers at the University of Hawaii found the best remedy for the sting is vinegar, to remove stingers and tentacles left on the skin. Then immerse in hot water or apply a warm compress for 45 minutes. Additional treatment includes the following:
Alert a lifeguard.
Do not try to remove the tentacles with bare hands. Take a towel and use it to gently unwrap it from the skin.
Rinse with seawater, not freshwater and try to avoid cold water.
Take Benadryl or apply a topical cream.
Currently, Florida is in the height of the Portuguese man-of-war season that is expected to last until late April or early May.