Jellyfish and a few Portuguese man-of-war appearing on area beaches. Reports normal for this time of year and not out ordinary.

Area beaches haven’t seen a spike in the number of Portuguese man-of-war washing up on area beaches as there has been south of us, but as waters warm beach visitors are reminded to watch their step.

Last week, beaches in South Carolina and southeastern North Carolina reported an increase in the number of Portuguese man-of-wars and jellyfish washing ashore on the beach and appearing in near-shore waters. An alert was issued by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources for man-of-wars, which were showing up on beaches by the hundreds in that area, with a number of stings reported.

Hammocks Beach State Park’s Bear Island is a favorite destination for area residents seeking some time on a more isolated beach. Visitors have likely seen a jellyfish or two lately but park rangers haven’t noticed the presence of the more venomous Portuguese man-of-war.

“We have not had any Portuguese man-of-war at Hammocks Beach. We’ve had a bunch of jellyfish like Cannonball jellyfish and some other types, but no man-of-wars,” said Hammocks Beach State Park Ranger Brian Swanson. “I don’t know if it’s a further south thing or what.”

Swanson said rangers drive the 3.5-mile beach at Bear Island each day and see any jellyfish or man-of-wars that wash up or appear in large numbers.

He doesn’t recall any stings reported by visitors last season.

“(Park rangers) drive the beach every day so we see the ones that wash up,” Swanson said. “I don’t remember any stings last year so I don’t know if it is too much of an issue.”

Further south on Topsail Island, there have been sightings of man-of-wars, though not in the large numbers reported elsewhere.

“We saw the man-of-war Saturday,” said Jim Wells, 30, a Surf City resident. “(A friend) and I were surfing and the tide pulled us down near the pier. We found the man-of-war washed up on the beach two accesses south of the Surf City pier, about a few hundred yards away. I wasn’t really worried about going in the water. Well, maybe I was a little worried.”

Rachel Stringfellow, an aquarist at the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores, said she has gotten calls from area beach visitors wanting to know more about jellyfish and asking questions about their appearance in the area and if it is normal to see them is local waters.

“People have seen them. People have been calling and asking questions and if it is normal to see them this time of year,” Stringfellow said.

It is normal.

Stringfellow said jellyfish and man-of-wars can’t tolerate colder waters and it is typically early spring to late fall when they may be seen in area waters.

“When the waters start warming up you start seeing more of them,” Stringfellow said.

She hasn’t heard where there has been a higher than normal presence along local beaches but she said how far north and how close they get to shore is dependent on winds and tide.

“They get their power from the wind,” Stringfellow said.

Emerald Isle Fire Chief Bill Walker, whose department oversees the town’s beach patrol and lifeguard program, said the presence of jellyfish and man-of-wars isn’t unusual along Bogue Banks but he hasn’t had any reports of them so far this season.

When they are around, Walker said they’ll see people stopping by the fire department or calling 911 about a sting.

But their presence is as varied as the winds and tides determined by Mother Nature.

“It just depends on how the winds blow and how long they are here,” Walker said.

Stringfellow said beach visitors should be aware of their surroundings and should not touch either a jellyfish or man-of-war even after they’ve washed up on the beach as they can still sting.

Stringfellow noted that man-of-wars are often mistaken to be jellyfish but there are differences.

For one, it is a siphonophore, which is an animal made up of more than one organism working together. It is most recognizable from an uppermost polyp, a gas-filled bladder, which sits above the water and has a bluish-purple color.

The man-of-war is also has long tentacles with a more dangerous sting.

“They have really long tentacles that can be 15 to 30 feet long,” Stringfellow said.

While not typically life-threatening, the man-of-war sting is very painful and anyone stung should seek medical care.

At Fort Fisher State Recreation Area at the southern tip of New Hanover County, park superintendent Jeff Owen said he has gotten reports of more cannonball jellies. Although jellies washing ashore isn’t unusual, he said the sheer number is noteworthy.

“Luckily, if you are going to encounter any jellyfish, these are the ones you want to see,” he said, noting they have smaller tentacles less likely to sting.

For those jellies that get closer to shore, he said they may become the prey for leatherback sea turtles, of which the area is seeing a boom.

 

The Star News contributed to this report.

Reporter Jannette Pippin can be reached at 910-382-2557 or Jannette.Pippin@jdnews.com.