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How to tell if that jellyfish is deadly or not

While not all jellyfish are deadly, some of them like the bluebottle can still pack a punch.
While not all jellyfish are deadly, some of them like the bluebottle can still pack a punch. Janine Hill

FROM the size of a fingernail with only a few tentacles, to as big as 3.5m, and some stingers have more tentacles than you or I can count on two hands, jellyfish come in a range of shapes and sizes.

Home to one of the world's deadliest species, Queensland waters have experienced dozens of deaths because of the aquatic creatures.

While the irukandji is well known and recognised, there are many other types of jellyfish swimming close by which may not be deadly, but can still pack a punch.

"The most common one you'll find is the bluebotttle," Surf Life Saving Northern Queensland regional manager Col Sparkes explained.

"We get that from the Tweed border right to the tip of the cape, but it's not as prevalent in North Queensland as it is down south."

He said when you get stung by those it does hurt, but they have nowhere near the severity of the more iconic jellyfish.

"The ones that cause the most amount of damage, the ones we're most concerned with are any of the jellyfish that are cuboid shape, which is why they're called box jellyfish," he said.

"If it's a cuboid shape, that's probably the first indication you might have something of a severe nature."

Down south the morbakka jellyfish is one of the more dangerous breeds, which can bring on "irukandji like symptoms" if stung.

However, the most deadly species are the irukandji itself and the chironex fleckeri which are found in northern waters.

Both are cuboid in shape but vary massively in size and symptoms.

Between them, they have caused at least 62 deaths in Queensland waters.

As a general rule, Surf Life Saving Queensland recommend people cover as much exposed skin as possible before swimming and always stay between the red and yellow flags.

THE JELLYFISH KINGDOM

Jimble (Carybdea)

 

Carybdea (Jimble) jellyfish
Carybdea (Jimble) jellyfish Contributed

The jimble jellyfish has a transparent bell 1.5-3cm in diameter with four tentacles, one in each corner, 5-15cm long.

It's home is the Indo-Pacific region and can be found Australia-wide. Occasionally it can be found in swarms in Sydney Harbour.

If someone is stung, remove them from the water if safe to do so.

DRSABCD (Danger, Response, Send, Airway, Breathing, CPR, Defibrillator). Remove any adhering tentacles and wash the area with sea water (not freshwater).

Place the person's stung area in hot water (no hotter than the rescuer can comfortably tolerate) for 20 minutes If local pain is unrelieved by heat or if hot water is not available, apply a cold pack or ice in a bag.

If pain persists or is generalised, or if the sting area is large or involves sensitive areas (e.g. the eyes), dial 000 and seek assistance from lifesavers/lifeguards if available.

Jelly Blubber (Catostylus)

 

Catostylus (Blubber) jellyfish
Catostylus (Blubber) jellyfish Contributed

A mushroom-shaped bell between 5-30cm in diameter. They are a creamy white brown colour (blue if found further north).

They have no tentacles but eight 'fronds' or 'frills' hang underneath.

The sting causes minor skin irritation. The Australian species is found in estuaries and coastal waters in Queensland, Victoria and NSW.

First aid: Remove casualty from water if safe to do so. DRSABCD.

Wash area with sea water (not freshwater). Keep casualty at rest and reassure.

Do not allow rubbing of the sting area.

Place casualty's stung area in hot water (no hotter than the rescuer can comfortably tolerate) for 20 minutes. If local pain is unrelieved by heat or if hot water is not available, apply a cold pack or ice in a bag.

Send for medical aid if symptoms persist or covers a sensitive area (e.g the eyes) and seek assistance from lifesavers/lifeguards.

Box jellyfish (Chironex fleckeri)

 

Chironex fleckeri (Box jellyfish)
Chironex fleckeri (Box jellyfish) Contributed

A large but almost transparent jellyfish with a box-shaped bell up to 38cm in diameter. Up to 17 ribbon-like tentacles arise from each of the four corners. These may contract to about 10cm or may extend up to 3m.

Found in shallow, tropical Australian waters north of Agnes Water.

Its sting causes immediate severe burning pain and whip-like marks, often with tentacles remaining on the stung area. Severe stings may cause the casualty to stop breathing and suffer cardiac arrest.

First aid: Remove casualty from water if safe to do so. DRSABCD. If casualty has more than one localised single sting or looks/feels unwell, dial 000 and seek assistance from a lifesaver/lifeguard if available. If possible, treat the sting by pouring vinegar for at least 30 seconds and then pick off the tentacles

The box jellyfish is regarded as one of the world's most venomous animals with recorded deaths in Australia.

Hair jelly, Snottie, Lion's mane (Cyanea)

 

Cyanea (Hair jelly, Snottie, Lion's mane) jellyfish
Cyanea (Hair jelly, Snottie, Lion's mane) jellyfish Contributed

A large, flat bell up to half a metre in diameter with a large 'mop' of fine hair-like tentacles 5-100cm long. It can grow to be one of the largest jellyfish on earth.

The bell top is often white or brown with yellow, brown or reddish colouring underneath. While it can be found worldwide, Australia is home to smaller specimens.

If someone you know is stung by the jellyfish, remove them from the water if safe to do so. DRSABCD.

Remove any adhering tentacles. Wash area with seawater (not freshwater) then place casualty's stung area in hot water (no hotter than the rescuer can comfortably tolerate) for 20 minutes.

If local pain is unrelieved by heat or if no hot water is available, apply a cold pack or ice in a dry plastic bag.

If pain persists and sting area is large or involves sensitive areas (e.g. the eyes) dial 000 and seek assistance from the lifesavers/lifeguards if available. Administer CPR if required.

The jellyfish was used as the murder weapon in the Sherlock Holmes book 'Adventures of the Lion's Mane'.

Irukandji

 

Irukandji jellyfish
Irukandji jellyfish Contributed

A small transparent box jellyfish, 1-2cm in diameter and usually extremely difficult to see. Some may be up to 10cm long.

They're most commonly found in tropical Australian waters north of southern Fraser Island, Northern Territory waters and Western Australia south to Exmouth.

Irukandji jellyfish cause an initial minor skin sting followed 5-40 minutes later by severe generalised muscular pain, headache, vomiting and sweating.

The sting from some species can cause very high blood pressure or have effects on the heart which may be life threatening. These symptoms are sometimes referred to as Irukandji Syndrome.

Because symptoms may take time to appear after the sting, all tropical jellyfish stings should be doused with vinegar for at least 30 seconds and the casualty should remain out of the water, in a safe location with someone to monitor them for 45 minutes, as the casualty may appear stable initially.

DRSABCD. Dial 000 for an ambulance. Promptly administer CPR if required and seek assistance.

Fire Jelly, Moreton Bay Stinger (Morbakka)

 

Morbakka (Fire Jelly, Moreton Bay Stinger) jellyfish
Morbakka (Fire Jelly, Moreton Bay Stinger) jellyfish Contributed

The morbakka is a large transparent box-shaped bell with one tentacle in each corner. The bell can be 6-18cm wide with four thick, ribbon-shaped tentacles that may be up to 1m long.

It's most commonly found in tropical Australian waters including all Queensland and northern New South Wales coasts.

First aid: Remove casualty from water if safe to do so. DRSABCD.

If casualty has more than one localised single sting or looks/feels unwell, call 000 and seek assistance from a lifesaver/lifeguard if available. Assess casualty and commence CPR if necessary.

Douse stung area with vinegar for 30 seconds to neutralise invisible stinging cells. If vinegar is unavailable, rinse with seawater.

Apply cold pack or ice in dry plastic bag for pain relief. Do not apply freshwater directly onto the sting. Monitor for 45 minutes.

Little Mauve Stinger (Pelagia)

 

Pelagia (Little Mauve Stinger) jellyfish
Pelagia (Little Mauve Stinger) jellyfish Contributed

A small mushroom-shaped body from 2-6cm in diameter. Unlike most jellyfish, the bell is covered with numerous warty lumps containing nematocysts (stinging capsules).

The bell is usually pink or mauve with eight pale brown tentacles 10-30cm in length. It's commonly found in Australia, as well as warm and temperate waters in other parts of the world.

If someone is stung, remove any adhering tentacles. Wash area with seawater (not freshwater).

Place casualty's stung area in hot water (no hotter than the rescuer can comfortably tolerate) for 20 minutes.

If pain is unrelieved by heat or if hot water is not available apply a cold pack or ice in a dry plastic bag. Send for medical assistance if symptoms persist.

It is unknown whether the Australian Pelagia is the same as the Mediterranean species.

The Pelagia can glow if stimulated at night.

On one day in 2007 off the coast of Northern Ireland a swarm wiped out a 100,000-fish salmon farm causing millions of dollars in damages.

Bluebottle, Portugese man-o-war, Pacific man-o-war (Physalia)

 

Physalia (Bluebottle, Portugese man-o-war, Pacific man-o-war) jellyfish
Physalia (Bluebottle, Portugese man-o-war, Pacific man-o-war) jellyfish Contributed

Air-filled sac up to 8cm in length, usually with a single, long, blue main fishing tentacle underneath. This may contract to a few centimetres or extend to cover over 10m in length.

Some may have numerous main fishing tentacles and can cause painful stinging. It can be found Australia-wide and in most warm oceans worldwide.

Do not allow rubbing of the stung area.

Adherent blue tentacles may be seen after a sting and are distinctive for Physalia.

First aid: Remove any adhering tentacles. Rinse the area well with sea water (not freshwater).

Place casualty's stung area in hot water (no hotter than the rescuer can comfortably tolerate) for 20 minutes.

If the pain is unrelieved by heat, or if hot water is not available, apply cold packs or ice in a dry plastic bag. Send for medical aid if symptoms persist.

Bluebottles are not actually jellyfish, but a colony of four kinds of highly modified individuals (polyps).

The polyps are dependent on one another for survival and each performs a different function.

Topics:  bluebottles box jellyfish general-seniors-news irukandji jellyfish life savers


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