Saturday, June 16, 2001

Massive box
jellyfish invasion
hits Oahu

Unusually high numbers of the
stinging critters are found from
Waikiki to Kaimana Beach

By Lisa Asato

Box jellyfish invaded waters stretching from Waikiki to Kaimana Beach yesterday, keeping lifeguards and paramedics busy attending to 220 cases of stings in 12 hours.

Box jellyfish stings can cause anaphylactic shock, prompting tightness in the chest, difficulty breathing and stomach cramps, said Capt. Edmund Pestana of the city Ocean Safety Division.

Pestana said that in the Waikiki area, the monthly influx of box jellyfish is usually localized at Kuhio Beach, but yesterday "it was about the same for every (lifeguard) tower right down to Kaimana Beach (near the Natatorium). They all had 30 or 40 stings."

He said most lifeguards in the area start work at 9 a.m., so today's early morning swimmers have to check the water and shorelines themselves.

The jellyfish "will be coming in tonight," he said. "People should be aware."

Box jellyfish also commonly appear at Pokai Bay, Makaha Beach and Hanauma Bay, but there were no reports of stings at those sites yesterday. Waimea Bay had two reports of minor stings, Pestana said.

The city Ocean Safety Division issued a box jellyfish warning for yesterday and posted advisory signs from Waikiki to Ala Moana Beach Park. No beaches were closed.

Tim Morris of Melbourne, Australia, sat yesterday next to the
ambulance where he was treated for box jellyfish stings. He
said he had been swimming for 20 minutes when he
got what felt like a bee sting.

The first sting on Waikiki's Kuhio Beach was reported yesterday at 5 a.m. By midday, lifeguard Landy Blair and University of Hawaii researchers who are studying jellyfish toxins had pulled more than 1,700 jellyfish from the Kuhio Beach waters and shoreline.

"I quit counting after 1,700," Blair said.

Blair said the monthly influx of the jellyfish peaks on the ninth and 10th days after a full moon. Yesterday was the 10th day. He added that the squishy, clear jellyfish normally number about 300 on peak days.

Although Blair is considered the box jellyfish expert among his peers at Ocean Safety, he admits that the size of the influx is not predictable.

"This part I haven't figured out yet," he said, "but thank God we at least know when they're coming in."

Blair said the jellyfish's stingers are located on its four tentacles, which can measure up to 4 feet long. Effects of being stung range from minor skin irritation to anaphylactic shock that may require hospitalization, Blair said.

"I have sent 30-year-old muscular surfers in tears and with breathing difficulties to the hospital," he said. "It can do damage."

Nine-year-old Cherie McMeekin, who was visiting with her family from New Zealand, writhed in pain 15 minutes after being stung by a box jellyfish on her right arm. "I was in the (water) playing with my brother and found a white thing and pulled it off," she said. "I felt this stinging thing happen to me, and I ran to Dad."

Her 6-year-old brother, Karl, also had been stung but barely seemed to notice the redness around his wrist.

Their mother, Christine, said she was advised to monitor Cherie's breathing for the next 24 hours. "We have jellyfish (in New Zealand), but we haven't seen something like this before," she said.

Paramedic Patty Dukes said three people were taken by ambulance to the hospital yesterday, but the cases were not critical except for severe pain.

Dukes said her on-site unit treated about 20 people, all tourists. "The local people say, 'Nah, we're OK, we're OK, we get this all the time,'" she said.

The Ocean Safety Division recommends flushing the affected area with copious amounts of vinegar, followed by ice or heat as needed.

But surfer Grady Rodrigues, who said he has been stung many times, offered a less conventional remedy.

"Just (urinate) in a cup and throw it on your arm," he said. "It may sound gross but it works."

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