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Box Jellyfish

Photo by Katrin Holmsten

Box Jelly Fish

Australia's box jelly fish, also known as sea wasp or stinger, is claimed to be the world's most venomous marine animal known, over the last century they have killed about 60 people in Australia.
The Box Jellyfish has a four sided shape up to 20 cm long and they may have up to as many as sixty tentacles up to 3 metres in length.
Their color is pale blue and transparent and they are difficult to see, and for a long time it was a mystery what was actually causing such excruciating pain often followed by death, which can occur sometimes within 2 to 3 minutes.
They do not actually attack people, they will even try to get away from people but sometimes people just bump into them. People have even been stung by dried tentacles in fishing nets, even a year in the garage does not reduce the effects of the toxin!

It is a myth that this dangerous jelly fish only lives in Australia, they are also found through south east Asia, but there statistics are not kept, and there is no coordinated defence and warning system against them like in Australia. According to Surf Lifesavers national marine stinger adviser Lisa-Ann Gershwin around 90 people a year die in the Phillipines from this jelly fish, and tourists have died in Thailand too, with doctors and authorities trying to cover it up as drug overdose.
Australia is the only country where people are warned with signs not to swim, in other countries it is probably the tourism industry that does not want to scare people off, but if you are going to get stung you are better off having it done in Australia where the hospitals know how to treat you than in some Asian country where they don't!

Box Jellyfish Season

The Box Jellyfish season across the top of northern Australia starts around October and lasts until April or May. Further south along the northern Queensland or northern Western Australian coast the season is usually from November to March though in Darwin they have been spotted even in the dry season. They sometimes appear further south and sometimes a few weeks beyond the official close of season before disappearing until the next wet season.
Always check with the locals before swimming in the ocean. Never swim on your own in isolated areas. If in populated areas ask if there is a stinger net nearby, many local councils place nets in the ocean in summer time. If you are stung, your chance of survival or even getting yourself to the shore is virtually zero. The pain has been described as so excruciating that you will probably go into shock and drown, even before the full effect of the venom takes place.

box jelly fish season

Where they live

Box Jellyfish hunt small crustaceans and small fish. They travel towards the shore in calm weather on a rising tide and congregate near the mouths of creeks and rivers following rain when food is washed down these watercourses to the waiting Box Jellyfish.

Fortunately they only live close to shore so you can still go out to the Great Barrier Reef which is too far offshore for them.

For mobility, the Box Jellyfish contracts with a jet-like motion, shooting itself along up to speeds of 4 knots. It is presumed to have eyes connected to a nerve ring and the creature can take evasive action or move towards its prey.

stinger net
A stinger net at a Townsville beach

Most towns in northern Australia will have a stinger net installed to allow people a relatively safe swim in the ocean to cool down, although they keep box jelly fish out the Irukandji, Bluebottles and other small jelly fish can still get through the net. The nets also have to be managed, checked and maintained as sometimes crocodiles have been found in the nets!

The Box Jellyfish uses its tentacles to kill its prey. If a swimmer makes contact with the Box Jellyfish's tentacles, perhaps only 6 or 7 metres of them, death may result! Children may die after even less contact. The severity of the sting is relative to the size of the Box Jellyfish, the sensitivity of the victim's skin, and the amount of tentacle that has come into contact.

A very large Box Jellyfish has tentacles that, if placed end to end, would measure more than 60 metres, so it is not unusual for a rescuer to inadvertently become entangled in another section of the tentacles and suffer the same fate. Sometimes the victim somehow manages to get ashore only to die within a few minutes.

First Aid

First Aid you can try in a situation like this includes washing the affected areas with vinegar (often bottles are placed on stands along northern beaches) and mouth to mouth resuscitation and CPR if the victim becomes unconscious as the toxin paralyzes the muscles that normally control breathing and heart beat.
Do not rub the stings as more tentacles may fire off, just pour on the vinegar that will stop any unfired tentacles from doing more damage. Remember the emergency phone number is 000 in Australia.

Of course it is better to not get stung in the first place and to wear a stinger suit, on you can read all about this Australian invention and see where they are for sale.

stinger suits


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