July 19, 2008
Jump in Jellyfish Gives LIers That Stinging Feeling
By Bill Bleyer, Newsday, Melville, N.Y.
Jul. 19--Lifeguards at East Hampton's Peconic Bay beaches have been issued an unusual piece of equipment this summer: spray bottles filled with a mixture of vinegar and salt water.
It's the best defense against the pain caused by the sting of lion's mane jellyfish.
Swimmers and lifeguards on Peconic Bay and some Long Island Sound beaches are emerging from the water with painful stings because of an unusually early spike in the jellyfish population.
Federal, state and county officials said there have not been major problems on the Atlantic Ocean beaches.
But John Ryan, chief lifeguard for the Town of East Hampton, said "it's pretty bad on the bay side, especially for this time of year. They've been here for the past month. We give swim lessons and the instructors are all getting stung."
Ryan added: "I just got in new spray bottles that we fill with salt water and vinegar to neutralize the sting. Baking soda and ammonia also work."
Vinny Guido, 18, of Rocky Point, who has been a lifeguard for three years at Cedar Beach in Mount Sinai, said "they are out of control and won't go away."
He estimates about 30 people a day are treated for stings, up from no more than two a day at this time last year.
People who have a strong allergic reaction should seek medical treatment.
Larry Penny, East Hampton Town natural resources director, said "this is the worst we've seen it in 10 or 15 years in the Peconic Bay Estuary."
George Gorman, deputy regional director for state parks, said there had been an unusual concentration of jellyfish over the weekend and through Tuesday at Sunken Meadow State Park and a number of people were stung. "Usually, we see them at the end of August or September, when the water temperature is higher."
"What's causing it?" said Eric Klos, who studies jellyfish at the University of Rhode Island's Graduate School of Oceanography. "The true answer is we don't know." He said global warming could be a factor, along with overfishing of the species that also eat the plankton that jellyfish feed on.
Klos said short-term weather conditions such as a tropical storm would not be an issue because the weather change is only temporary and the jellyfish have a much longer life cycle. The jellyfish have not been brought to this area by currents, but breed in local water bodies where they are now being found, he said.
Hofstra adjunct assistant biology professor Nicolai Konow said "I would presume it has to do with human intervention and ecosystem imbalance. It could be nutrient runoff, and it could be a direct result of imbalance in the food chain due to overfishing of the natural predators of the jellyfish."
"We've seen this before," Klos said, "and I'm sure we'll see it again."
Katie Serignese contributed to this story.
John Ryan, chief lifeguard for the Town of East Hampton, said a national lifeguard association recommends a mixture of salt water and vinegar to neutralize the sting. Baking soda, ammonia and rubbing alcohol also work.
Hofstra adjunct assistant biology professor Nicolai Konow said it's important after being stung to remove any residue of the tentacle without rubbing it, which will cause more irritation. "Household vinegar is the best thing you can douse this with afterwards," he said. "You can also use very, very, warm water."
Rash usually will disappear in about an hour but some East End residents this year report the pain lasting for several days.
Lion's mane jellyfish
Reported to grow to 80 inches in diameter but are usually less than 10.
Edge of the swimming bell is divided into eight lobes, giving it the appearance of a flower viewed from above. As many as 150 long tentacles.
Reported from Arctic, northern European, Atlantic, Pacific and Antarctic waters.
Diet includes planktonic crustaceans, fish eggs and larvae. The long tentacles snare such relatively large prey and bring them to the oral arms, where they are enveloped and digested.
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