Officials are researching an unusual amount of Portuguese Man o’ Wars at Jersey Shore, Delaware and New York beaches this summer. Several of the jellyfish-like creatures, which can deliver painful stings, are at a science lab at Montclair State University as researchers try to figure out if this summer’s surge is an isolated incident or a sign of things to come.
Scientists and students at Montclair State are extracting DNA from dead Man o’ War as part of their research.
“It can give us an idea of where these organisms originated,” said Dena Restaino, a Montclair Environmental Management Doctoral student. “So where are they coming from?”
Man o’ Wars are more common in Florida and the Caribbean. While they can get swept into the Gulf Stream they are rarely found in such large numbers in our area.
“This will start to get the pieces of information necessary to start asking, ‘How similar are they to others in the Caribbean?’” said Dr. Paul Bologna, the Director of Marine Biology at Montclair State. “Is this a unique event or is this something that their populations are growing and we might see more of these in the future?”
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Portuguese Man o’ Wars, which are actually colonies of specialized animals called zooids, have tentacles that grow from 10 to 30 feet long and marine biologists say their potentially deadly sting is far worse than what one would get from jellyfish normally found at the Jersey Shore.
Stings from Man o’ Wars can cause abdominal pain, changes in pulse, chest pain, collapse, headache, muscle pain and spasms, numbness and weakness, pain in the arms or legs, a raised red spot on the skin, runny nose and watery eyes, difficulty swallowing and sweating.
While he doesn’t recommend others try it, Bologna has intentionally stung himself by rubbing a Man o’ War tentacle on his arm as part of his research.
“A very sharp intense pain,” he said. “But it wasn’t anything I would consider life-threatening. I’m hoping to allay some of those fears that it’s still safe to go in the water.”
Scientists are also researching how the creatures produce the toxins they use to sting.
“I think there may be medical applications of some of these things,” said Dr. Jack Gaynor of Montclair State.
Researchers say it’s hard to predict how much longer the Man o’ War invasion will last and are asking beachgoers to keep their eyes open.