RI state beaches are flying purple flags warning swimmers of the presence of the Portuguese Man o’ War, a dangerous jellyfish-like sea creature with long tentacles and a painful sting. The purple flag indicates dangerous marine life has been spotted in coastal waters and that swimmers should swim at their own risk while staying vigilant. This precaution is in response to recent reports of Men o’ War washing up on southern RI beaches.
“Abundance is low so far, with just one or two washing up somewhat sporadically on our southern beaches,” said Katie Rodrigue, Principal Marine Biologist from DEM’s Division of Marine Fisheries. “They are likely coming up on the Gulf Stream from southern waters and being brought to shore by southerly winds. This marine event may continue for a little while but is typically short-lived.”
The tentacles of the Man o’ War can grow to 30 feet and longer. They “contain stinging nematocysts, microscopic capsules loaded with coiled, barbed tubes that deliver venom capable of paralyzing and killing small fish and crustaceans,” according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). A Portuguese Man o’ War sting should be treated by carefully remove remaining tentacles with fine tweezers or with a gloved hand (a plastic bag works in a pinch) and rinsing the affected area with white vinegar to prevent any remaining stinging cells from firing. Then, soak the skin in hot but not scalding water (110 – 113 degrees F) or take a hot shower for at least 20 minutes. The heat will denature the protein in the venom. If symptoms do not go away or pain gets worse, contact a healthcare provider.
“If swimmers see something that looks like a balloon floating on top of the water, they should stay far away,” said Rodrigue. “Once the Man o’ War gets into the surf zone, if the water is rough, the tentacles can break apart and they can continue to sting even while unattached. The sting is very painful and can leave scars on people with more sensitive skin.”
DEM staff will continue monitoring all ocean beaches for signs of the Portuguese Man o’ War.
Like Newport Buzz? We depend on the generosity of readers like you who support us, to help with our mission to keep you informed and entertained with local, independent news and content. We truly appreciate your trust and support!