Thursday, June 16, 2005

A Swiss scientist tentatively identified jellyfish yesterday that are believed to be stinging paddlers in Keehi Lagoon.

Keehi jellyfish
tentatively identified

A Swiss scientist has tentatively identified tiny jellyfish found in Oahu's Keehi Lagoon as related to a species that has caused trouble for swimmers in New Zealand.

"This looks to me like a Proboscidactyla species," Peter Schuchert of the Museum of Natural History in Geneva wrote in an e-mail to Hawaii scientists.

Schuchert was responding to e-mailed photographs of the Keehi creatures, which are suspects in the recent stinging of canoe paddlers and forced a change in location for canoe regattas.

"It might interest you that in northern New Zealand there is a recurrent problem with a Proboscidactyla species ... (that) occurs in large numbers during the summer months and causes a so-called 'bather's eruption,'" Schuchert wrote to Lu Eldredge of the Bishop Museum, who is working to identify the Keehi jellyfish for the state Department of Health.

Since 1996 there have been reports of Auckland ocean swimmers getting stung or bitten by something, according to a University of Auckland medical and health sciences Web site (www.health.auckland.ac. nz/comhealth/topics.htm#23).

"The lesions sea-bathers get in Auckland are itching, burning lesions under the swimsuit after bathing. In some years this is a significant source of annoyance, and medically significant reactions have been reported as well," according to the Web site.

Schuchert said the medusa (the bell-shaped body of the free-swimming form of this type of jellyfish) is of similar size as the one depicted from Hawaii -- about the size of a pinhead.

Schuchert noted that two scientists are studying the New Zealand animal's life cycle.

To know conclusively whether the Hawaii animals are the same as the New Zealand ones, the polyp stage of their life cycle would have to be studied, Schuchert said.

Jellyfish of this type go through a polyp stage, where they are attached by a stalk to a stationary surface, and a medusa stage, when they are free-swimming.

While scientists halfway around the world helping to identify the tiny creatures, Oahu canoe racing associations are trying to put their regatta seasons back together.

Hui Wa'a racing association, which canceled its July 12 regatta at Keehi because of the stinging, will hold its Sunday regatta at Maili Beach Park, Vice President Tambry Young said. The association has tentative locations for three more regattas this year that had been planned for Keehi.

Hannie Anderson, president of the Oahu Hawaiian Canoe Racing Association, said she is still optimistic that Oahu championships between the two associations can be held at Keehi Lagoon as planned in late July.

"I'm hoping that by the time a month from now comes, that it will clear up," she said.

Though originally concerned that the state took too long to investigate the problem at Keehi, "I think they're on the right track right now," Anderson said.

Anyone who thinks an area should have its water quality tested can call the Department of Health Clean Water Branch at 586-4309 and explain their concerns, spokeswoman Laura Lott said. The decision of whether to test an area will be made on a case-by-case basis, she said.

Clean Water Branch - Health Advisories

E-mail to City Desk


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