Small Man O Wars Washing Up On Delaware Beaches


Portuguese man o war, fenwick island, atlantic ocean, gulf stream, sussex county, sail jellies,
Small Portuguesse Man O War washed up on Fenwick Island State Park beach … photo by Brandon Butler

Like many people at the beach today Brandon Butler is looking for treasures washed up from t he storm with no name.  He is looking specifically for sea glass, the beaches took a pounding and there is debris all over the high tide line.  In some areas there are large rolls of mangled dune fencing on Fenwick Island State Park and other beaches, but that is not the worst thing that has washed up.  Today he ran across two small Portuguese Man O War also known as bluebottle, or floating terror.  He found one, then came across another.  This happened about 3:15 PM at Fenwick Island State Park.  He is at the walk on area near the bath house.  Be careful if you are out and about walking the beaches, one of these was covered in sand and could have easily been stepped on by someone who was barefoot.  We have a lot of people here just checking out the beaches and the storm damage.  There are more people metal detecting than anything else right now.  The drive on beaches are all still closed, and it looks like they could be for a few days. The beaches are flattened out like New Jersey and high tide will probably hit the dune bases for a few days.  There have been all kinds of things washing up on beaches and you would be surprised what you can find at times.


sailor jelly, velella, sea raft, by-the-wind sailor, purple sail, little sail, delaware, sussex county, beaches, fenwick island state park
Sailor Jelly … photo by Brandon Butler

Last week Brandon was beach combing the same area and came across what looked like tiny man owar, but were “sailor jellies” or Velella velella they are also commonly known as sea raft, by-the-wind sailor, purple sail, or little sail.  They are related to Man O Wars but can not sting people.  However they do have nematocysts (stinging cells) and feed just like man o war, after handling them wash your hands and do not touch your eyes or sensitive skin.  They are found all over the world’s warm water oceans and use their small inflated polyp or bladder as a sail just like Portuguese Man O Wars.  This leaves them at the mercy of the winds, which can strand them on beaches and shorelines.  Their sails always align with the direction of the wind acting as an aerofoil causing them to sail downwind at an angle.  You can see the difference between the two in the pictures.  Brandon seems to be a magnet for the “sailed” jellies, all he wants to find is some sea glass.

delaware, sussex county, man o war, sail jellies
Portuguese Man O War covered is sand after washing up on beach … photo by Brandon Butler
Related Articles
1 of 1,576

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.

burrfish, puffer fish, atlantic fish, gulf stream, saltwater tropical aquarium fish
Striped burrfish also found today washed up on the beach, Brandon never found any sea glass, but he did find some cool things none the less … photo by Brandon Butler

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

Comments are closed.