Portuguese man-of-war invade Tybee Island

TYBEE ISLAND, Ga. -- Purple and blue iridescent globes scatter the beach, reflecting the bright sunlight. "They're gorgeous animals. People are drawn to them."  Until they sting.

Beth Palmer, Program Director at the Tybee Island Marine Science Center, said they've seen more than 20 Portuguese man o' war wash up on the shores of Tybee Island over the last four days. 

"Whenever we have strong winds and currents, they tend to get pushed into shore," Palmer said. "They are natural to our coasts, but usually are found in deeper water." 

Higher-than-usual numbers of the stinging creatures had Tybee Lifeguards warning beach goers "These are nothing to mess around with."

PHOTOS | Portuguese man o' war wash up on Tybee Island shores

The man o' war isn't a jellyfish. It's a siphonophore, a colony of several small individual organisms. Tentacles can be up to 160 feet long. The feeding tentacles sting and paralyze small fish, crustaceans, and other invertebrates. 

"It's a very strong sting," Palmer said. "One analogy we've heard to describe the sting is if fire and electricity had a baby!"

Lifeguards and Tybee Island Public Works have been collecting the man o' war from the beaches in efforts to keep stings to a minimum. If you are stung, Palmer said you should first use something to scrape the surface of the skin to remove barbs. "You won't see them, but they're there," she said. 

After that, you should wash the area with salt water. Anyone stung should be monitored and seek emergency care if they begin showing signs of distress. 

Palmer has a special warning for beach walkers: don't touch them. Ever. 

"They can still sting up to 48 hours after they're beached," she said. "We don't want to fear them, just understand them."

© 2017 WXIA-TV


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