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A Guide to Surviving the Portuguese Man-o-War Invasion

A long, holiday weekend seems like the perfect time to slip off to the beach. Which also makes it the perfect time for Portuguese man-o-wars to make their attack.

by Ben Richmond
Jul 3 2015, 4:40pm

Image: Subberculture, Flickr

A long, holiday weekend seems like the perfect time to slip off to the beach. Which also makes it the perfect time for Portuguese man-o-wars to make their attack—when we're all too drunk on freedom and sun-stroked on freedom to resist.

Riding the warm Gulf Stream waters in on northeasterly wind, a "potentially deadly Portuguese man-o-war" washed up on the Jersey Shore last week. As NBC New York reports, wildlife experts say "this likely wasn't an isolated incident and...it's highly probable that more of these jellyfish will show up on local beaches in the next week or so." Dozens more have washed ashore in the time since, prompting wildlife officials at several New Jersey beaches to issue warnings: beware the Portuguese man-o-war.

There's probably nothing to worry about, particularly if you aren't planning to hit the Jersey Shore, but to better know thy enemy, right? So, Motherboard has put together a man-o-war survival guide to these tough times.

Man-o-war. Flickr

What's a Portuguese man-o-war? Aren't those just jellyfish?

Oh man, you wish they were just jellyfish. Granted, they look just like a jellyfish—and are a close relative to the world's most venomous marine animal, the box jellyfish. But Portuguese man-o-wars are "technically a colony of sea-going polyps," lurking somewhere in the nether regions between an organism and a colony of organisms.

This makes them so much more terrifying, at least in my estimation. They are Borg. They are Anonymous, and it's safe to say they also never forgive nor forget, even if your only sin is having a weak fleshy body.

Wait, what are they going to do to my weak fleshy body?

Oh man. Portuguese man-o-war have tentacles that can grow from 10 to 30 feet and they're covered in coiled venomous stingers. Designed to paralyze small fish, Paul Bologna, associate professor of biology at Montclair State University told NBC New York that the man-o-war sting is "among the most painful" and can cause people who are allergic to things like bee stings to go into shock.

The University of Minnesota Medical Center website states that "the tentacles leave long, stringy red welts on the skin. The welts last from minutes to hours. There is local pain, burning, swelling, and redness. This rash may come and go for up to six weeks. Cramps, fever, sweating, weakness, faintness, dizziness, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea may also occur in stronger reactions." According to the website Hawaii Gaga, the sting can also cause swelling of nearby lymph nodes. Your lymph nodes! That's something that the plague also affects!

That sounds like it could really ruin my day. But you called it "potentially deadly!" How potentially deadly are we talking here?

Well, if you're, say, allergic to animal venom generally, and swimming around far from shore, you could be in for a rough time. It's definitely going to hurt like you're being electrocuted, and even a mild sting contains more neurotoxins than your doctor would probably recommend.

What if I get stung by one?

I'd advise calling your loved ones and telling them how you feel, if only because you probably don't do that enough, and life is short. But first you need to get the tentacle off of you with a stick or something, not your hands. Then rinse your new stinging welt with salt water, which conveniently should be nearby.

If you start having a really severe reaction, then seek medical attention. Otherwise, icepacks, cortisol and ibuprofen should probably do it.

That doesn't sound too bad.

Well, it's supposed to hurt really badly, but yeah, if severe pain is your thing, have at it, tough guy.

Relax, okay? Is it safe to go in the water, or what?

Of course! We Americans can't let ourselves be pushed around by a bunch of stinkin' polyps! Just listen to the lifeguards, watch what you're doing and remember the advice of Harvey Cedars Beach Patrol Captain Randy Townsend: "You never want to turn your back on the ocean."

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