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Reef Report for Monday, April 21, 2008

Stinging Jellyfish in Queensland: the latest facts.

We probably get more questions about stinging jellyfish than any other, so itís about time we summarized the situation with jellyfish here in the tropics of Australia. There is a lot of misinformation around, and we hope with this story to give you the basic facts about these animals.

There are two main types of jellyfish that are encountered along the Great Barrier Reef coast. © James Cook University

The first species is called a stinger, and these animals grow to about the size of a grapefruit, with tentacles that trail about 2 metres (6 feet) behind it as it swims. This is a coastal species, and is not found out on the reef; itís only found in coastal estuaries and along the beaches. Itís found only in the warmer months, most years usually from October through to late June.

Stingers pack a wallop, being stung by one is life-threatening, and immediate medical attention is always required. During months where these jellyfish are found along the beaches, communities maintain swimming enclosures for beachgoers to swim inside.

The second kind of jellyfish here is called an Irukandji. Itís now understood that this is actually a group of closely related species, and itís thought that some have stronger venom than others.

Irukandji are small jellyfish, with a body the size of a grape, (about life-sized in the picture above) and just a few short tentacles trailing behind it. They are found both along the beaches and out on the reef, and their distribution is patchy. They can be found year round, but are more common during the warmer months.

Irukandji stings do require medical attention, and while emergency medical attention is recommended, are not as serious an emergency as stingers. To this point there have only been two fatalities ever attributed to Irukandji stings, out of million of locals and tourists that swim on the beaches and visit the Great Barrier Reef.

Itís very possible to enjoy the reef and reduce your risks of being stung by Irukandji. Their stinging cells are triggered by contact with organic materials (like skin) but cannot penetrate easily or deeply. Lifeguards, beachgoers, and divers here should wear a lycra skin suit, and any area covered by this thin layer of lycra is protected. Dive operators here routinely provide lycra suits or wetsuits, and we always wear one out while diving, although many people do not. The large majority of folks stung by Irukandji were not wearing such protection.

More information:

More background information on stinging jellyfish, from the Queensland Government.

More background information on stinging jellyfish, from James Cook University.

(C) DiveTheReef The weekly reef report is written by Joel Groberg of DiveTheReef.com, who compiles them from the many conversations he has with dive staff in the area, as well as† many other local sources in the dive community.

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