Earlier this week in the morning I was out early training in the beach. We were swimming and, although still a little cool, the water was tolerable without a wetsuit. Suddenly I felt a familiar pain on the side of my stomach as a tentacle grazed me. After the swim lap we ran back to the starting point to jump on rescue boards and, as we ran, we noticed several small Man-O-War interspaced along the beachfront.
Man-O-War can come in at any time but they typically seem to be more prevalent in the late summer as currents bring them here from the Caribbean. They are not jellyfish, but are actually a colony of small animals that work together as one organism. They’re one of the more beautiful animals around with a blue, purple or pink balloon top with a sail. They have long tentacles that hang in the water and trail behind the balloon. Larger ones can have a 2foot top with 12 foot tentacles.
The treatment for both man-o-war and jellyfish that the World Health Organization and the International Lifesaving Federation recommend is vinegar. If there are tentacles still on the skin, you should first douse the area with the vinegar, then remove them using a glove or cloth so as not to get stung yourself. Then pour the vinegar on the area again to make sure all the little stinging cells (nematocysts) are neutralized. This will keep the sting from getting worse. Finally, if the person is in pain, use a topical anesthetic. Ice works really well for this. A sting from a man-o-war can be extremely painful, especially if the sting is in a tender area. Fortunately the sting is just on the skin so a true allergic reaction is very rare. That’s not to say people that get stung won’t get abdominal cramps or feel panicky. This is a pretty normal reaction to any pain when the person doesn’t know how bad it’s going to get and if it’s dangerous.
Another thing to remember about the man-o-war is that they, and their cousins the jelly fish, can still sting you after they’ve been washed up on the beach for some time. Kids love to pick up the “balloons” on the beach and some like to pop the man-o-war with sticks. It’s not pretty when the juice spurts up and gets in an eye.
The nice thing about the man-o-war is that when they are around they’re pretty easy to spot. They float on top of the water and if they’re on the beach, they’re in the water. Of course we’ll let everyone know if there are lots on a given day by flying a purple flag on our condition signs and by posting it on our website along with a flag that represents the water conditions. In fact, if you’re interested in getting daily updates by e-mail or text as to the beach conditions you can sign up for them on our website.