If the great white shark in Jaws freaked you out, beware of other terrors lurking in the ocean — jellyfish. No pointy teeth or crushing jaws, just seemingly harmless diaphanous floaters with silky stinging tentacles. Like aquatic zombies, jellyfish can sting — even if they’re dead.
This spring I’d noticed jellies washing up on Myrtle Beach and also floating in clumps in shallow water near Honeymoon Island, Florida. There seemed to be more than usual. Kids poked at the rubbery blobs with their fingers or toes. Was it safe to touch them? Were the jellies really dead? Or were they simply waiting for the tide to wash them back into the ocean? One thing was clear: Seabirds — scavengers that eat practically any trash on the beach — totally steered clear of the jellies.
A little research brought up this scary incident: On July 21, 2010, swimmers at Wallis Sands State Park in New Hampshire were stung by the floating 40-pound carcass of a lion’s mane jellyfish. It seemed although the jellyfish was dead, the tentacles still released enough toxin to sting 150 children and adults, causing chaos as hysterical swimmers splashed to shore. So much for a fun day at the beach. More recently, on May 18, 2014, a cluster of lion’s mane jellyfish were spotted by a kayaker in Long Island Sound off the coast of Connecticut.
If you’re headed for a beach vacation, stay on Jelly Alert:
Don’t Touch. Jellyfish can emit toxins even if broken up or dead. Tentacles still have stinging power even if detached from the jelly’s body. If your kids are interested in examining jellies washed up near shore or on the beach, use a pail or sand shovel to move the body. No bare hands.
Check Jelly Alert Signs. Beaches often post alerts near the lifeguard stations. Take a short stroll down the beach. If you see dead jellies, it’s a sure sign live ones are floating offshore.
Keep an Eye Out. If you’re standing in the surf, keep watch around you. My husband was surf fishing, standing in thigh-high calm water when a clump of jellies floated up and around him. But sometimes, like in the movie Jaws, you can’t see danger coming.
Report. If you’re at the beach, report sightings to the lifeguard. Or report online to Jellywatch, to keep others informed about jellyfish locations.