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Poisonous Portuguese Man O' War wash up on Sanibel beaches

Portuguese Man O’ War
Posted at 3:54 PM, Jun 23, 2023

SANIBEL, Fla. — Imagine going for your morning walk along the water, enjoying the beach, and coming across a Portuguese Man O’ War.

That's exactly what happen to Sanibel resident Lori Klusmier earlier this week while she was walking between Bowman's Beach and Blind Pass. She then posted pictures to Facebook to warn other beachgoers.

Fox 4 Meteorologist Andrew Shipley showed those pictures to beachgoers on Friday — many of whom were surprised, including Yarel who was visiting the island from Miami.

“It's kind of scary. I don't know if I want to get into the water now,” said Yarel. “Especially since we are not familiar with the beach here. We are now kind of looking around to see if we see any.”

It's not the first time Portugese Man O' War have been spotted in the area. The Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation (SCCF) told Fox 4 that they heard reports in March, and before that, in 2018.

So how did they end up on the beach? SCCF's Dr. Rick Bartleson said it all has do with wind direction.

“Their bladders are like a sail,” said Dr. Bartleson. “The wind and currents will blow them around. So, it means we have been having shore-ward breezes.”

While they might look similar to and sting like jellyfish, Florida Gulf Coast University Professor Dr. James Douglass, an ecologist who specializes in coastal marine habitats, says they are actually very different.

“These are what's called colonial organisms, which means their body is made up of many bodies that fused together to form one cooperative structure,” said Dr. Douglass. “So, they are put together in a very unusual way, which is why they look nothing like anything else in the ocean.”

A Man O’ War's poisonous tentacles can stretch nearly 100 feet in the water. On land, they are just as dangerous to touch.

"Obviously, you don't want to touch them,” said Dr. Douglass. “They have poisonous stinging cells. If their tentacles are still wet and you touch them, those stinging cells will fire off a microscopic poisonous harpoon into your skin, that is very painful."

While painful, Man O’ War are rarely deadly to humans. According to the National Institute of Health, the last death from a sting in Florida was in 1987.

If you do get stung, pouring vinegar can inactivate the stinging cells while a heat treatment can neutralize already injected venom. If you have a more serious reaction, it is best to seek medical attention.

That all said, Dr. Douglass adds winds might not just brought Man O’ Wars to Sanibel.

“We should be on the lookout for other types on seaweed or fish that we might not normally see that are drifting in with these different circulation patterns.”