Friday, March 12, 1999

Unwary swimmers
stung to attention

By Susan Kreifels


Paul McQuaid sat on Kuhio Beach in intense pain, holding a hot pack against his red-streaked face.

The swimmer had never experienced the like in Ireland.

He was one of many yesterday who had their first glimpse of a box jellyfish, and he won't forget it.

Ignoring warnings from lifeguards, McQuaid took his usual morning swim.

Close to the pier, where light-sensitive jellyfish had congregated, stinging tentacles wrapped around his head and the soles of his feet.

"I should know better, but you don't realize until you get stung yourself," said McQuaid, who's lived in Waikiki for four months.

The orange flags of jellyfish warnings flew on Oahu's south shores yesterday.

Lifeguards at Kuhio Beach treated at least five people for stings. One woman, who said her pain was worse than major surgery, was hospitalized.

The total number of people treated on the island will not be tallied for a couple of days, according to Honolulu's Ocean Safety and Lifeguard Services Division.

The jellyfish invasion is cyclical, occurring about nine days after the full moon and lasting two or three days.

Lifeguard Landy Blair and three University of Hawaii researchers collected about 600 jellyfish off Kuhio Beach early yesterday.

"For God's sake," exclaimed Canadian tourist Gordon Gehlert, peering at a jellyfish in a jar of water.

Pink stinger tentacles, which grow up to 2 feet, circled a transparent, bulbous body. He and his wife, Gloria, were convinced they should wait till the weekend before swimming.

Canadian Marg Pickering gingerly delivered a jellyfish to Blair atop her zori.

The pain of stings can be traumatic, and Susan Scott, who writes a column on the marine environment for the Star-Bulletin, was measuring it yesterday at Kuhio Beach. She's looking for the best treatment -- hot packs or cold packs -- for jellyfish stings. Over the last two years, she's surveyed about 200 victims.

Scott said that so far it's been split down the middle.

Meanwhile, Canadian tourist Phil Gauthier and daughter Megan, 14, merely gazed at the water. They arrived Wednesday and were anxious to snorkel.

A jellyfish invasion, "I must admit, I didn't expect," Gauthier said.

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