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Oahu Ocean Safety: Portuguese Man of War

Appearance, sting symptoms and treatment

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Portuguese Man of War are not very common on most of Oahu's beaches. However, they are blown ashore in large numbers, usually on the Windward side of the island, when they do pay a visit.

Contrary to what a lot of us may think, Portuguese Man of War are not actually jellyfish. They are related to jellyfish, but jellyfish swim. Man of War cannot swim, they are propelled by the wind. They resemble a small, purple, bluish bubble with a long tail. On Oahu, the average size of their float is up to 2 inches, with tentacles up to 30 feet long. These tentacles deliver a small, painful sting when touched. The best way to prevent a sting is to stay out of the water when Portuguese Man of War are present. (Go figure!) So, if you or anyone at the beach sees one or is stung, stay out! Be sure to heed posted warnings! Talk to the lifeguard if you have any doubt it is safe to enter the water.
Portuguese Man of War Photo
A sting is very rarely fatal, but is painful and may cause an allergic reaction. Symptoms of a sting range from mild burning and redness to severe blisters and welts. If you are stung, remove the tentacles with a gloved hand, stick, fin, whatever you can find. Rinse with fresh or salt water. (You may contact the lifeguard for treatment at the beach.) DO NOT apply vinegar. This has been used in the past and has actually been found to make the sting worse. Apply cold or heat for pain, which ever feels better. If symptoms become any more than moderate, contact a physician.

Any shortness of breath, heart palpitations, muscle cramps, weakness, or the slightest breathing difficulty may indicate a severe allergic reaction. Consider this a medical emergency and contact 911!

Visit the Hawaii Beach Safety Website for more information and current beach alerts.

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More Oahu Beach Hazard Info:
Surf | Limu (Stinging Seaweed) | Box Jellyfish |Theft

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