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Unusually High Number of Bluebottle Stings off Queensland Coast

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Hordes of bluebottles have been washed ashore on Australian beaches. Walking among them is ill-advised (Photo: Shutterstock.com)

At least 3,595 people have been stung over the last week by an 'invasion' of Portuguese man o' war 'jellyfish' – also known as bluebottles – across the beaches of the Sunshine Coast and Gold Coast in Queensland, Australia.

Reports started surfacing on 29 December, according to Surf Life Saving Queensland's Twitter feed, as an increasing number of stings resulting from bluebottles were treated by local lifeguards and medical services. 2,632 stings were reported over the weekend of 5/6 January alone. A number of beaches were closed as a result, and a further update on 6 January reported that a 'wall' of bluebottles was approaching the Sunshine Coast's Rainbow Beach.

The Portuguese man o' war is actually a siphonophore, not a jellyfish, although its resemblance to 'true' jellyfish often means it is lumped together into the same category. Siphonophores are a collection of colonial animals operating together as a single entity, rather than a single animal as is the case with jellyfish. The man o' war is easily identified by its blue-coloured surface 'float' and tentacles which can stretch 10m or more from the main body.

It is thought an unusual streak of north-easterly winds has driven the bluebottles towards the shore. The blue float acts as a sail, meaning the species is much more affected by surface wind conditions than jellyfish, which mostly remain submerged.

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The man o' war's surface float acts as a sail in windy conditions (Photo: Shutterstock.com)

Man o' war stings are extremely painful and leave open welts on the skin, but are rarely fatal. Treatment involves removing the tentacles and washing the skin with salt water to remove as many remaining nematocysts (stinging cells) as possible. Shaving the affected area can also help. Once the wound has been cleaned, the application of heat – either through heat packs or a very hot shower –and then ice, can help to reduce the inflammation.

Bluebottle stings are not uncommon in the region, with tens of thousands of incidents reported every year along Australia's eastern and southeastern coastline. This year, however, a total of 22,282 people in Queensland sought treatment between 1 December and 7 January, compared with 6,831 in the same timeframe last year. This compares with between 25,000 and 45,000 incidents per year across the whole of Australia.

Australian Marine Stinger Advisory Service director Lisa-Ann Gershwin said that the number of reported stingings was 'a hell of a lot', but although the numbers were 'unusual', given the 'really weird run' of strong winds, the number of jellyfish driven to the shore was 'not abnormal.'

 

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