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Sting Ain’t Sexy: The Truth About Lethal Jellyfishes

A few years back, Anne Curtis-Smith almost died after a poisonous box jellyfish stung her during her shoot in Batangas for her now defunct teleserye Dyesebel. That was a close call. If it wasn’t for the swift response of the set’s medical team—which transferred her from different hospitals in Batangas and ended up in the care of the doctors in St. Luke’s Global City—God knows what could’ve happened next to our favorite dyosa.

But the thing is, not everyone is as lucky as Anne. Last July 26, news of how a Fil-Italian girl got stung by a jellyfish that left her lifeless circulated around the web and gained a mixed reaction of panic and sadness from netizens. The 6-year old girl, despite her swimming skills, wasn’t spared from the fatal fangs of a box jellyfish. And whether we try to hide it or not, we’re worried that it might happen to us too, especially the ones who’ve already considered the beach to be their second home.

Before we decide to abandon the comforts of seawater altogether because of the creepy jellies that lurk around the ocean, we think it’s best if we learn to deal with them instead of completely running away from it.

 

The 411 on Medusozoa a.k.a. Jellyfish

There are different types of jellyfish in the ocean. Some of them, a hundred percent harmless but several kinds are all-out deadly, like the Sea Nettle that is common in North America, Portuguese Man o’War that can be found in the Atlantic, and the Sea Wasp (a kind of box jellyfish) which is the most common here in the Philippines.

Despite their squishy and gentle-looking physical appearance, jellies are sea backstabbers. Their translucent case makes it easy for them to attack their prey. Unlike great white sharks and killer whales, box jellyfishes can only be as large as the size of a basketball. They slither even in shallow waters making it more dangerous for tourists and locals.

Dubbed as the most lethal jellyfish in the world, the Sea Wasp that casually swims around Philippine seas is covered with stinging cells called nematocysts. These cells emit toxic venoms that can send a victim to his or her death in just two to five minutes because it targets the cardiovascular system of the body.

Once the tentacles of these little sea creatures touch your body, you will feel an intense stinging pain combined with itching. You’ll know if you’ve been a stung by the bad kind of jellies if you find it hard to breathe after a few seconds or so.

 

The beastly Sea Wasps and where to find them

Our tropical coastlines are stunning and beautiful, no doubt about that. But deadly sea creatures don’t really choose where they attack next. Chironex fleckeri, sea wasp’s binomial name, can be virtually found anywhere. But here’s a list of places in the country that have recorded attacks of box jellyfishes:

 

  1. Sibonga, Cebu
  2. Malalag, Davao del Sur
  3. Lingayen, Pangasinan
  4. Caramoan, Camarines Sur
  5. Subic, Zambales
  6. Anilao and Nasugbu, Batangas

 

They usually swim close to the shore starting April and are most visible by the time July kicks in. Sea wasps start drifting away only by September.

While there could be other potential beaches where these creatures stay, the best preventive thing we can do is to always be on the look out for them every time we’re out in the sea.

 

Surviving a Sting

Warning: don’t pee on it!

We’ve been taught that peeing on the area where you’ve been stung is the best first aid treatment. But uh-oh, we recently found out that it only activates the venom! The poisonous hair-like particles that attach automatically on your skin once you’ve been hit by a sea wasp is chemically-activated, meaning, the age-old secret of pee as a cure won’t work—in fact, it will only make it worse.

Tip: Always bring a bottle of vinegar when hitting the beach. You’ll never know when you might need it.

The best possible first aid before rushing the victim to the emergency is to clean the affected area with saltwater to remove the remaining particles. Soak it in vinegar after to at least alleviate the excruciating pain of a ‘boxies’ sting. It also deactivates the nematocysts from further damaging the body.

When you’re planning to go to the beach, first thing that you should do is ask the locals if there have been jellyfish sightings around the area. If yes, make sure to ask which type—is it dangerous or not? Many locals for sure would know by now how a box jellyfish looks like. But just in case they don’t, take another look at this photo for reference:

 

 

The ocean may be our solace and a great place to recharge from being drained by the demands of our day-to-day life, but we should always keep in mind that it is also the habitat of many of the world’s deadliest creatures. It has been there home for thousands and thousands of years, and we are just merely visitors.

So if you really want to relax at the beach during this time when numerous reports of jellyfish attacks are recorded, you can always just snatch a book from your shelf and read while sunbathing at a safe zone where jellies won’t reach you. After all, you can always pick a beach resort with a pool where you can swim as long you like. You can still get a good view of the ocean while enjoying a refreshing swim without the potential danger of a sea wasp sting.