Saturday, June 9, 2012

Portuguese Man o' War Double Whammy in Baja

We figured it would've happened before now.  The Portuguese Man o' War or "Bluebottle (Bluey)" as the Australians call them are very prevalent in Australia and New Zealand.  We lived and surfed in that area for 3 years and never got hit by one. They pile up on beaches during a strong swell or onshore wind and are known to be toxic and painful if you come in contact with one of their sticky, barbed tentacles.

The Portuguese Man o' War live at the surface of the ocean. The gas-filled bladder (really fun to pop when they have washed up on the beach), floats at the surface, while the tentacles extend deep underwater. Since the man o' war has no means of propulsion, it is moved by a combination of winds, currents, and tides.

Had to go back into our 2008 picture archives to
find this bluey washed up on a Sydney beach
We are still on the southern Sea of Cortez in Baja.  A few days ago a bluebottle wrapped around my hand as I paddled onto a wave.  The pain was excruciating, and as I fell off my board, I vigorously rubbed my hand to get the tentacles off.  Blue tentacles remained even after I rubbed and rubbed. I finally got them off by rubbing (even harder) on my wetsuit.  This was mistake number one.  Our subsequent research found this to be the single worst thing you can do -- DO NOT RUB A BLUEBOTTLE STING.  This releases more toxins and pushes them into your skin.  My hand was shaking and after a bit, I started to feel a tightness in my chest.  I paddled in, and doused the sting in vinegar.  Mistake number two.  Jellyfish stings are typically treated with vinegar but blueys are not jellyfish (despite what everyone thinks).  According to the Wikipedia entry for Man o' Wars, "Vinegar is not recommended for treating stings. Vinegar dousing increases toxin delivery and worsens symptoms of stings. Vinegar has also been confirmed to provoke hemorrhaging when used on the less severe stings of smaller species."  Despite this bit of information, everyone we talk to says, "use vinegar".  I am writing to tell anyone who has happened upon our blog -- DO NOT USE VINEGAR with a bluebottle sting.  I didn't recover from the pain until that night.  It was, without a doubt, the worst pain I have ever experienced.

Two days later, Scott went out snorkeling and got hit on the ankle.  Luckily, we had just been into town and done a ton of research on bluebottles.  He did everything right (well almost).  He pulled off the tentacles with tweezers, took a Benedryl, and then put hot packs on the area.  This is the important part -- "the application of hot water (45 °C/113 °F) to the affected area eases the pain of a sting by denaturing the toxins." (Wikipedia)  In true Scott fashion, he might have been a little too tough because he burned the sh** of out his ankle from too much heat.  I think the blisters from the burn were probably preferred over any evidence of a bluey sting.  Both of us agreed that ice was not helpful and in fact was very painful.  This is another piece of advice often given by the uninformed.

While Scott was paddleboarding he lifted a bluebottle out of the water with his paddle.  He lifted the 7 foot paddle as high as he could but still couldn't find the ends of the tentacles.  We learned that the tentacles are typically 10 metres (30 ft) in length but can be up to 50 metres (165 ft).  I think I'd rather swim with great white sharks.

1 comment:

Sara said...

They are so beautiful-- used to love seeing them in New Zealand- but dang those stings sound horrible!

I'm happy to see you guys are still on the road- maybe one of these days I'll get rid of the optometrist career once and for all and go longer term, after juggling big career lapses with work stints.