Hundreds of Portuguese man-of-wars have begun to be spotted along the beaches of Fort Lauderdale and the Palm Beaches. The blue bottle-looking jellyfish have reportedly stung about 200 swimmers in Fort Lauderdale in the past week alone, prompting lifeguards to put up purple flags to warn beachgoers.
"We are flying yellow and purple flags today for moderately hazardous bathing and jellyfish," says a Fort Lauderdale spokesperson. "Please consult your lifeguard on duty before deciding whether to enter the ocean today."
The Portuguese man-of-war's sting isn't considered deadly, unless one is allergic. But it is painful, much like a bee sting. They have long tentacles that can reach 100 feet, and since they have no propulsion, the fish are at the whim of wherever the ocean takes them.
The fish usually make their way toward Florida's shorelines around November, carried by the wind.
While the man-of-war is not technically a jellyfish, it resembles one, with its bulbous shape and long tentacles. The tentacles are attached to a gas-filled sac that allow them to float. Since the tentacles are so long, bathers are often stung when swimming hundreds of feet away from a man-of-war.
The tentacles are filled with venom that serves to paralyze small fish and prey, but even tentacles that have become detached or the tentacles of a dead man-of-war can sting. The pain from a man-of-war sting can last a couple of hours, depending on how much venom has gotten into a person.
A person stung by a man-of-war should first have the tentacles removed with a stick or tweezers.
The area should then be washed with seawater. An ice pack can be used to reduce pain and inflammation. Experts say you should not use vinegar to wash the area, as this might cause more pain. The area can also be soaked in hot water to ease the pain. Pain from a Portuguese man-of-war sting generally lasts about 15 to 20 minutes. A person experiencing shock or trouble breathing should seek immediate medical attention.
Do not urinate on the area. Contrary to popular belief, urinating on a man-of-war sting will not ease the pain. According to a study by the Straub Clinic & Hospital in Honolulu, urine might actually make man-of-war stings worse.
Yellow or purple flags are posted on beaches as a warning that there are man-of-wars in the area, so keep an eye out for that if you hit up the beach this New Year's weekend.