Watch out for jellyfish this summer in Omani seas
May 6, 2017 | 9:31 PM
by Deeba Hasan / [email protected]
To avoid jellyfish stings, it’s advised that swimmers wear protective clothing such as stinger-suits or long sleeve rash-guards. Photo-File

Muscat: Swimmers, divers and casual beachgoers are advised towatch out for jellyfish when they venture into the open water.

It is summertime, and just the perfect season to go out to sea. However, experts say it is advisable to exercise precaution if you don’t want an itch or a scar that will last for weeks or even months because of a painful jellyfish sting.

According to Dr. Michel Claereboudt, Assistant Professor in the Department of Marine Science and Fisheries at the Sultan Qaboos University (SQU), not all types of jellyfish stings are even harmless, but swimmers and snorkellers need to keep a watch out for the dangerous ones.

“There are hundreds of different jellyfish found in Oman, but most of them are so tiny that you will never see them, and they are completely harmless, called ‘hydromedusa’ and belong to a class that are common and very small.

“However, the dangerous ones here in Oman belong to two groups. The box jellyfish are rare, but do occur in Oman. People have been stung by them on a few occasions. This jellyfish looks like a two-litre plastic coke bottle with four two-metre long tentacles that are extremely stinging and will leave marks for several weeks.They are painful and may cause low blood pressure or panic; this is medically serious.

“The second group is the bluebottles, which float on the surface with a bubble of air in them, and their tentacles can be tens of metres long. As a swimmer, you get entangled in the tentacles before you actually see the animal because they can be five or six metres away, and it’s blue like the ocean.

“Again, this is painful, but jellyfish in Oman are generally not fatal, unless,perhaps, for a baby that may get entangled seriously in the tentacles. It depends on the amount of venom per kilogramme of weight, but for an adult or a healthy child it is not a problem. It is painful and will leave a mark for several weeks or even months, but it won’t kill.”

Dr. Claereboudt said that April to May, especially in Spring,jellyfish are commonly found in the seas. “April to May is about the right time, when the water gets warmer and people go swimming; I think it’s more in spring than in summer, so for a couple of months now, there is a higher risk.”

A person who was stung by a jellyfish said, “I was swimming; suddenly,the tentacles of the jellyfish grazed my arms. It felt like an electric shock. I was forced to come out of the water because of the severe pain and noticed that both my arms were burnt.” The victim had to seek medical attention immediately.

Elayne Looker, Environmental Scientist at Five Oceans Environmental Services,advised sea-goers to stay protected to avoid stings. “To avoid jellyfish stings, it’s advised that swimmers wear protective clothing such as stinger-suits or long sleeve rash-guards. Divers are protected when wearing neoprene wetsuits.

“However, if dangerous jellyfish, such as the box jellyfish, are known to be near a beach or a boat, it’s best to avoid swimming altogether. Beachgoers should avoid touching or picking up jellyfish washed up on the beach. It’s advised to always carry vinegar in marine first aid kits, as well as hot water, to treat jellyfish stings.

She further gave tips on what to do after a sting has occurred. “According to Bergbauer et al (2007) medical guide for dangerous marine animals, one should get the stung person out of the sea immediately, and any tentacle that is stuck to the body should be carefully removed with something like a credit card or shell.

“Do not rinse the stung skin with fresh water, alcohol or urine. Rinse the area with magnesium sulphate or apply a thick paste of baking soda. Once the sting subsides, the area can be rinsed with vinegar.

“Afterwards, keep the skin clean to prevent infection and skin ointment such as lidocaine can help act as an anaesthetic. If anaphylaxis happens then CPR (cardio-pulmonary resuscitation) and hospitalisation will be needed. In my experience, immersing the stung skin in hot non-scalding water can provide immediate relief from pain, which is what other marine medical guides also suggest.”

Looker also said that although she had observed a flag system to warn swimmers on the possible presence of jellyfish on private beaches, she had not seen those in public ones. “Some beaches, mostly the private ones with lifeguards, have a flag system that can warn swimmers of jellyfish, but Ihave not seen these on public beaches.”

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