BEACHES THROUGHOUT THE ALICANTE province have been plagued by giant jellyfish, with floating blooms of the highly toxic stinging creatures being found on beaches across the region.
Just Friday, local newspaper Costa Blanca News reported through their Facebook page that the highly venomous sea creatures were being washed up on Guardamar’s beaches, prompting Council staff to organise emergency efforts to remove them.
Further south of Spain, the Gibraltar Chronicle reported last Wednesday that the jellyfish had reached Gibraltarian waters, following an off-shore close encounter between one of the sea giants and a local diver, Shaun Matthew Yeo.
The Portuguese man o’ war is a typically Atlantic Ocean dwelling sea creature with no independent means of propulsion, that floats according to the direction of wind, currents, and tides.
An unfortunately timed weather pattern swept blooms of the jellyfish eastward through the Strait of Gibraltar, and a change of weather direction steered the marine animals northward toward the Costa Blanca beaches.
Since the middle of last week, westerly winds (at times strong) have forced the siphonophore’s into shallower inshore waters, and many of the creatures have been washed on to the beaches.
British newspaper, The Leader, reported just this morning that Portuguese man o’ war have been found as far north as San Juan.
The paper stated that a lifeguard who was carrying out activities in the area close to Cabo de las Huertas, found one alive and floating in the sea. He removed it to prevent the jellyfish from stinging bathers and people who were walking along the shore.
Juan Guillén, biologist at the Institute of Coastal Ecology, said that the Portuguese man o’ war is characterized by its phosphorescent colour, with an abundence of stinging tentacles of between 10 metres and 30 meters long (33 feet to 98 feet).
He urged caution to bathers or people who surf or swim in the open water. “The only good thing about these jellyfish is that they can be easily seen, but bathers who go out into the sea alone should take extra care, as the stings can cause paralysis of a limb resulting in drowning”.
Siphonophorae: Portuguese man o’ war – not actually a jellyfish
The Portuguese man o’ war is not actually a jellyfish, but a colonial organism known as a siphonophore, and comprised of specialised individual animals (of the same species) called zooids or polyps.
The stinging tentacles are ten times more venomous than those of a jellyfish, and remain highly toxic for hours or even days after the death of the organism or the detachment of the tentacle. Detached tentacles may drift for days in open water.
Man o’ war stings usually cause severe pain, paralysis, and vomiting, leaving whip-like red welts on the surface of the skin that normally last two or three days.
The venom can travel to the lymph nodes and may cause symptoms that mimic an allergic reaction including swelling of the larynx, airway blockage, cardiac distress, and an inability to breathe. Other symptoms can include fever and shock.
In extreme cases the stings can cause death, particularly in instances where stings or loose tentacles completely encompass the abdomen of a child, which has the potential to be fatal.
What to do: first aid and treatment for Portuguese man o’ war stings
Treatment for a Portuguese man o’ war sting should begin immediately, with the application of poured salt water to rinse away any remaining microscopic unfired nematocyst stings before professional medical attention can be sought.
The application of warm saline water assists the breakdown of toxins already in the skin, and topical hydrocortisone cream (available over the counter from all pharmacists) will help aid recovery and skin healing.
Local Town Hall’s throughout the Alicante region have been working tirelessly to remove the sea creatures from the shoreline, in an effort to keep the beaches safe for use for locals and tourists visiting the Costa Blanca area.
Official advice is to refrain from entering the sea if lifeguards have deployed red flags, do not touch the creatures, and to inform the authorities if you happen to spot one of these unwelcome visitors.