ALERT: Beachgoers warned to avoid contact with Portuguese man o’ war

A number of sightings near ocean beaches over the holiday weekend and the subsequent washing ashore of several Portuguese man o’ war this week prompted DNREC Division of Parks & Recreation Natural Resources Police to issue a caution statement urging people to avoid the stinging jellyfish relatives that are rare tropical visitors to the Delaware coast.

Unknown for at least 15 years in Delaware state parks, one Portuguese man o’ war washed up on Faithful Steward Beach at Delaware Seashore State Park on Sunday night, while another beached early Monday at Fenwick Island State Park, and a third that afternoon at Cape Henlopen State Park, Chief of Enforcement Wayne Kline said.

In the water, he noted, “These are beautiful creatures that should be observed only from a safe distance.”

The man o’ war’s tentacles, which may grow to 50 feet in length, “can cause very painful — though usually non-life-threatening — stings.”

Ordinarily, stings from the Portuguese man o’ war cause pain that lasts up to an hour and leaves whip-like red welts on the skin for several days afterward, said Cpl. Bryan John, head of the Natural Resources Police lifeguard patrol. He advised that man o’ war stings, in rare instances, can result in a dangerous allergic reaction, possibly even fatal ones.

“Help should be sought immediately if the sting victim exhibits any of the following conditions,” John said, citing the need for assistance for a victim whose symptoms may include: trouble breathing, swelling of the lips or tongue, closure of the wind pipe, dizziness, fainting and vomiting, nausea or cramps.

“If you are stung, seek the assistance of a lifeguard immediately,” he said. “If you are stung on an unguarded beach, acting as quickly as you can, you should remove the tentacles with a towel, stick or anything handy — avoiding further contact with bare skin — and then rinse the area of the sting with sea water. Do not rub it,” John said.

The man o’ war’s stinging cells can continue to inflict injury even after the animal has washed up on the beach and appears to be dead, he said, cautioning, “Do not touch a Portuguese man o’ war or even a jellyfish that has come up on shore and looks to be dead on the sand.”

Kline also encouraged any beachgoers encountering a Portuguese man o’ war at a Delaware State Park beach to exit the water immediately and inform the nearest lifeguard of their sighting.

He noted that, with these marine creatures having gone unseen on the state’s beaches for a number of years, many beachgoers may not be familiar with their appearance. In the water, he said, they can seem to be an inflated purple-tinted blue balloon floating along on the ocean surface, while washed up on beach sand they may resemble a harmless duller blue plastic bag.

He reiterated that, no matter how compelling or exotic they may be for inviting a closer look, or touch, contact with the Portuguese man o’ war is to be avoided at all costs.