Published September 29, 1997 in the “Ocean Watch” column, Honolulu Star-Advertiser
©1997 Susan Scott
A reader named Jeremy recently sent me an interesting e-mail: “After 10 years in Hawaii, I’m still confused about what to call our jellyfish! What are the purplish-blue ones? Are they box jellyfish? My 6-year-old son and I recently got stung by two of these guys on the same day at Bellows Beach. Ouch! I used vinegar, which helped some. What do men-of-war look like? Aren’t there two varieties here?”
I also used to be confused about Hawaii’s jellyfish, and I’m sure others are too. The identification of jellyfish types and treatment of their stings is a public-health issue that Hawaii ocean-goers should know about. I am currently working on a jellyfish research project — which means I know the answers to Jeremy’s questions.
The purple-blue critters are Portuguese men-of-war, named by 18th-century English sailors after the warships of the Portuguese.
Because these offshore creatures float on top of the water, they are driven by wind. When the wind blows onshore, the creatures sometimes drift to Hawaii’s shores.
To determine the likelihood of a Portuguese man-of-war sting, ask a lifeguard. If a lifeguard is not available, stand facing the water. If the wind blows in your face, beware. The stronger and longer the wind blows onshore, the more likely men-of-war will be around.
Some researchers believe two species of Portuguese man-of-war exist and that the application of vinegar makes the sting from one worse. Since no one can tell which of the two types stung them, doctors recommend no vinegar be applied to stings.
Jellyfish are bell-shaped animals that swim underwater. The transparent box jellyfish usually appear on Hawaii’s south shores eight to 10 days after the full moon.
Researchers recommend applying vinegar to all jellyfish stings.
Marine biologist Susan Scott writes the newspaper column, “Ocean Watch”,
for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, www.starbulletin.com