What are thought to be highly venomous marine creatures showed up on the shores of Hilton Head Island in unprecedented numbers Monday.
Between 50 and 100 Portuguese man-of-wars washed up on island beaches Monday, according to Hilton Head Island Beach Patrol.
Man-of-wars usually only wash up one or two at a time, but strong easterly winds coming directly off the ocean may have caused the anomaly Monday morning, according to Jerome Staub, a supervisor at Hilton Head Island Beach Patrol.
The vibrant blue and purple colors of man-of-wars can entice people to take a closer look, but the public should be careful because this creature can deliver an extremely painful sting.
Officials are urging beachcombers not to handle the jellyfish, because they can sting up to 48 hours after they have been beached.
Man-of-wars are floating creatures that typically inhabit the tropics, subtropics and Gulf Stream. But east winds and ocean currents can occasionally force them to drift toward South Carolina.
“Luckily for us, (man-of-wars) have long tentacles, and since our water is shallow, it tends to rip their tentacles off before they come in,” Staub said.
Man-of-wars may look like a jellyfish to most of the public, but they’re actually not a jellyfish at all. They’re not even a single organism. A man-of-war is a sort of compilation of organisms that work together, according to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.
The float of the man-of-war is colored purple and blue and can reach up to 12 inches in length. Under the float, tentacles equipped with thousands of venomous cells extend up to 65 feet.
Symptoms of a man-of-war sting include severe shooting pain described as a shock-like sensation and intense joint and muscle pain. Pain may be accompanied by headaches, chills, fever, nausea and vomiting, according to the DNR.
Initial contact with Portuguese man-o-war may result in only a small number of stings, but efforts to escape from the tentacles may cause the creature to discharge more venom and intensify stings.
If someone is stung, the latest medical research suggests carefully removing any noticeable tentacles with gloves on and then rinsing the area with lukewarm fresh water. Ice can also help numb the affected area for pain relief, according to the DNR.
Dozens of Portuguese man-of-war stings were reported and treated on Tybee Island over the weekend, according to WSAV.
David Whitaker, assistant director of marine resources at the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, was less certain that the creatures showing up on the shores of Hilton Head are Portuguese man-of-wars.
According to him, they might be Velella velellas, which also float on the ocean’s surface like man-of-wars but are much less dangerous.
Either way, Whitaker said to see man-of-wars or Velella velellas wash up in high of numbers is abnormal and the best course of action is to stay away from them.