Man O Wars Washing Up On Delaware Beaches

Yesterday that east wind pushed in a lot of bait and a few Man O Wars.   Mark Fisher … “Hi, I saw a bunch of these Friday morning at Fenwick island park. Scary stuff, I didn’t know if anyone else saw them but maybe you could warn people that these guys are around. Looks like a man-o-war to me, it would be bad to wander into one.  I saw several of them washed up on the upper part of the beach at Fenwick Island State Park ”   This is really early for these to show up on our beaches.

Usually it is much later in the year for these to wash up on a beach, if it even happens.      My friends fishing offshore say they saw a lot of man o wars out there the past week while tuna fishing.  They must have come up with that eddy that is out near the canyons.  Be careful walking the beaches.  These tentacles can still be “active” when you think this creature is dead.


Portuguese man o war, delaware, sussex county
Man O War floating on the sea, the tentacles can be seen behind it and there are small white dots in the water around it are salps … photo by Cindy Fry (2016)

The Man O’ War is made up of 4 separate polyps.  The upper most polyp is a gas-filled bladder or pneumatophore, which sits above the water and acts as a sail.  The bladder resembles an old warship at full sail, hence the name Man O War.  Tentacles hang below the bladder, at average  lengths of thirty feet,  but can get as long as one hundred and sixty feet.  These are composed of independent cells that work as a colony.  The stinging cells or nematocysts kill small fish and crustaceans.  Muscles in the tentacles move the prey up to a polyp containing the gastrozooids or digestive organisms. A fourth polyp contains the reproductive organisms.  Once detached the nematocysts or stinging cells are still active for quite some time.  The sting is not deadly to humans but is very painful.

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The treatment of stings is not like a normal jellyfish.  Avoid further contact with the Portuguese Man O War and remove remnants of the organism from the skin.  Do not touch them directly, to avoid secondary stings, use gloves or tweezers.  Apply saltwater to the affected area, fresh water will further aggravate the affected area and make it worse.  Follow up the saltwater wash with hot water (113 degrees Fahrenheit) this will ease the pain better than cold water.  If the eyes have been affected irrigate them with room temperature water, copious amounts of water are recommended to fully flush the eyes and then seek medical attention as soon as possible.  Do not use vinegar on a Man O War sting, it will increase the toxin delivery and even cause any nematocysts left behind to fire and sting.  Vinegar is used on jellyfish stings to neutralize the toxin, but a Man O War is not a jellyfish and the toxins are much different.

FIsh On!

Rich King


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