GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

July 16, 2013

Jellyfish leaving their stinging mark

By James Niedzinski
Staff Writer

---- — MANCHESTER — At first, Sarah Oaks did not know what happened when her 10-year-old son ran out of the water onto Singing Beach last week in excruciating pain.

It was only a little while later, when the family was at Crosby’s Marketplace nearby that she realized her son Nate was stung by a jellyfish. The sting, on his face, went from red to purple, and was hot to the touch, Sarah Oaks said.

“I turned around and looked at him and it looked like he had jam on his face,” she said.

Nate was panicking, so she poured some clean water on it and calmed him down. Then she spotted a man wearing a Cape Ann Divers shirt, who suggested they go to the emergency room, so she called a friend at Beverly Hospital.

“The minute it happened, he was in a lot of pain,” she said. “It was really scary.”

The Oaks family were in Manchester vacationing from New York last week when Nate was stung, and the family has been spending summers in Manchester for years. But the Oaks family was not alone.

Monday at Singing Beach, a lifeguard made an attempt to fish one out of the water after another beachgoer said it had brushed up against her arm.

“She just had the jellyfish on her,” lifeguard Patty Blake said. “(It was) already dead.”

In both of those two instances, the species could not be identified. But lion’s mane jellyfish have been spotted last week on Singing Beach and on Good Harbor Beach in Gloucester; another jellyfish also washed up on Gloucester’s Pavilion Beach.

“The most dangerous thing about them is that their tentacles can get quite long,” Steve Spina, an assistant curator at the New England Aquarium said.

Spina said that, while the bell or body of the invertebrate could be 10 feet away, a stinging tentacle could be a lot closer, and they are hard to see. Also, the stingers still harbor live venom even after the jellyfish is dead, making even those that have washed up on shore dangerous to beachgoers.

While lion’s mane jellyfish are nothing out of the ordinary in the area, Spina said they are usually sighted in Boston Harbor in the spring and around Cape Cod later in the summer and are usually farther off the beaches.

Unlike other jellyfish, the lion’s mane preys on other jellies, such as the moon jellyfish. When the moon jellyfish blooms, the lion’s mane tries to follow along, but the jellyfish themselves are at the “mercy” of the tides and currents, Spina said.

The moon jellyfish usually bloom in late spring, and the lion’s mane is usually out of the area by now, Spina said.

“The jellyfish would rather be in deeper water, too,” he said.

Jellyfish use a microscopic harpoon called a nematocyst to sting. While Spina said a lion’s mane sting is not very likely to be fatal, it is not a pleasant experience either.

“It can hurt quite a bit,” he said.

Sarah Oaks said her son was also stung by a Portuguese man-o-war in Bermuda about three years ago.

Despite his clashes with marine life, Sarah Oaks said her son has not been fazed by his experience.

“He’s jumping off the rocks at Good Harbor as we speak,” she said Monday afternoon.

James Niedzinski can be reached at 978-283-7000, x 3455 or at jniedzinski@gloucestertimes.com.