Jellyfish plentiful in waters off Tybee beach this time of year. What you need to know

Thousands of cannonball jellyfish covered the beach at the water's edge Friday on Tybee's northern end.  (Photo by Jodi Moody)

Credit: Jodi Moody

Combined ShapeCaption
Thousands of cannonball jellyfish covered the beach at the water's edge Friday on Tybee's northern end. (Photo by Jodi Moody)

Credit: Jodi Moody

What’s soft, squishy but probably not so cuddly? A group of jellyfish, or a “smack,” as Bryan Fluech, associate director of the Marine Extension at the University of Georgia, calls it.

During this time of year, Tybee Island's warm waters draw in more visitors than ever, both in human and jelly form, which could lead to a higher number of jellyfish stings, said Fluech. Beachgoers are constantly sharing the surf with different walks of marine life that call the ocean their home. And more often than not, it's the blooms of jellyfish that sway at the mercy of the ocean current.

Last weekend, strong easterly winds blowing against the shores led to a larger presence of these gelatinous creatures and a higher-than-usual number of stings. A little over 300 stings were reported last Saturday, according to the Tybee Island Fire Department (TIFD), whereas the average sits around 150-200 per day.

But this shouldn’t be a cause for alarm, said TIFD Captain Matt Bowen.

“It happens every single year around this time, so we’re not new to this … but since there was a prevalent easterly wind, we are getting a little bit higher numbers.”

ExploreHundreds of jellyfish wash up on Georgia islands

Tybee saw 434 recorded stings in a single day earlier this year.

“It’s also very dependent on the population on the beach as well,” said Bowen, “As well as the tide.”

How to treat jellyfish stings

During tourist season, tens of thousands of visitors flock to the island, making it hard to find a space to lay down a beach towel. Bowen says treating jellyfish stings is “pretty much an all-day affair” but fairly simple as most stings lead to just mild irritation.

Bowen’s advice for treating stings is to first wash off any jellyfish residue. This can be done by grabbing a handful of wet sand (or a wet towel) and exfoliating the area to brush off any remaining stingers or nettles. Then, notify a nearby lifeguard as they’re usually carrying a vinegar-water solution that can be used to alleviate any pain.

“Vinegar will start denaturing that protein (left from a jellyfish sting),” said Fluech. “Some people will also use heat to alleviate the potency of that venom.”

For some people, that stinging sensation lasts from seconds to minutes. Any pain should usually subside after about 30 minutes to an hour, according to Bowen. In very rare cases will the pain last more than an hour. But it all depends on the individual’s skin condition and the severity of the sting. Some people may see welting or redness as a result.

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Under no circumstance should one urinate on the stung area, said Fluech, dispelling the common beach myth.

Fluech further cautions that jellyfish that wash ashore can still have venom left in their tentacles. Beachgoers that poke, prod or pick up any of the washed-up creatures risk coming into contact with their nematocysts, specialized cells that contain the venomous threads released in self-defense.

Combined ShapeCaption
The cannonball jellyfish is one of the most common along the Georgia shores. Cannonball jellies are not harmful to humans and are considered a delicacy in some countries. {Richard Burkhart/Savannah Morning News}

Credit: Richard Burkhart

The cannonball jellyfish is one of the most common along the Georgia shores. Cannonball jellies are not harmful to humans and are considered a delicacy in some countries. {Richard Burkhart/Savannah Morning News}

Credit: Richard Burkhart

Combined ShapeCaption
The cannonball jellyfish is one of the most common along the Georgia shores. Cannonball jellies are not harmful to humans and are considered a delicacy in some countries. {Richard Burkhart/Savannah Morning News}

Credit: Richard Burkhart

Credit: Richard Burkhart

On Tybee, people will often run into cannonball jellyfish, recognized by its brown speckles and domelike shape, said Bowen. Thousands of them washed up on Tybee's shores last May. While they may not have the sinuous, flowing tentacles found in other species of Scyphozoa, their short oral arms can still produce a mild sting.

Bowen advises that people not pick them up mainly for sanitary reasons.

Georgia’s coast is home to various types of jellyfish year-round. Depending on the water’s temperatures, some species are more prevalent than others. Moon jellies, sea nettles, box jellyfish (although not the lethal kind found in Australia) and lion’s manes are most common.

Portuguese Man o’ Wars, a cousin of the jellyfish, is one of the rarer, more venomous marine animals. Bowen said lifeguards saw about six of the translucent blue critters wash ashore this year, but none in recent months. While beachgoers might have the pleasure of spotting a Man o’ War’s fuschia-tinged bells, their tentacles will pack a punch if touched.

Combined ShapeCaption
JELLYFISH: These squishy critters injure beach-goers far more often than any other type of sea life. Since a sting from jellyfish tentacles can prove painful even when the creature is dead, smart beach-goers everywhere give them a wide berth both in the water and along the shore. The U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, offers advice on how to treat jellyfish stings. NOAA In the photo above: Man o' War: What are they: Another cluster of organisms and not a true jellyfish, the Man o' War is actually a group of orgaisms acting as one to survive. They're so named because the top sailsits on top of the water and resembles a warship at full sail. Do they sting: YES. Man oí War have incredibly long tentacles (up to 100 ft!) and they pack a wallop that may send someone to the ER if they have a reaction. STAY AWAY.

JELLYFISH: These squishy critters injure beach-goers far more often than any other type of sea life. Since a sting from jellyfish tentacles can prove painful even when the creature is dead, smart beach-goers everywhere give them a wide berth both in the water and along the shore. The U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, offers advice on how to treat jellyfish stings. NOAA  In the photo above: Man o' War: What are they: Another cluster of organisms and not a true jellyfish, the Man o' War is actually a group of orgaisms acting as one to survive. They're so named because the top sailsits on top of the water and resembles a warship at full sail. Do they sting: YES. Man oí War have incredibly long tentacles (up to 100 ft!) and they pack a wallop that may send someone to the ER if they have a reaction. STAY AWAY.

Combined ShapeCaption
JELLYFISH: These squishy critters injure beach-goers far more often than any other type of sea life. Since a sting from jellyfish tentacles can prove painful even when the creature is dead, smart beach-goers everywhere give them a wide berth both in the water and along the shore. The U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, offers advice on how to treat jellyfish stings. NOAA In the photo above: Man o' War: What are they: Another cluster of organisms and not a true jellyfish, the Man o' War is actually a group of orgaisms acting as one to survive. They're so named because the top sailsits on top of the water and resembles a warship at full sail. Do they sting: YES. Man oí War have incredibly long tentacles (up to 100 ft!) and they pack a wallop that may send someone to the ER if they have a reaction. STAY AWAY.

Nancy Guan is the general assignment reporter covering Chatham County municipalities. Reach her at nguan@gannett.com or on Twitter @nancyguann.

This article originally appeared on Savannah Morning News: Jellyfish plentiful in waters off Tybee beach this time of year. What you need to know


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