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Surf Ed

Marine Stingers

Australia’s waters are home to many interesting and fascinating creatures, including jellyfish, some of which can be the cause of painful stings! Although they are generally quite easy to avoid, they can cause discomfort if you are stung. The intensity and severity of a sting varies on a range of factors including type of stinger, location of the sting, and the health and fitness of the victim.

Top tips about non-tropical marine stingers:
  • Always swim at a patrolled beach, between the red and yellow flags.
  • Look for and obey the safety signs
  • Ask a lifeguard for help and advice.
  • Swim in the stinger nets where provided.

What are the common non-tropical stingers in Australia?

The bluebottle (physalia) is probably the most well known jellyfish around the Australian coastline. Their blue, balloon like sail sits above the water and is attached to a long tentacle extending below it. This tentacle is covered in stinging cells callednematocysts. When this touches the skin it reacts by injecting a small amount of a toxin which causes irritation and can be quite painful.

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Another common jellyfish is the hair jelly (cyanea) which has a more classic ‘bell’ shaped body with many tentacles protruding underneath. They can also cause a painful sting.

Non-tropical stingers can be found all around Australia but are more commonly found south of Bundaberg in Queensland and south of Geraldton in Western Australia.

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What should you do if you get stung by a non-tropical stinger?

For bluebottle stings:

 1.   Wash off any remaining tentacles with seawater, or pick off with your fingers (they can’t usually sting through thetough skin on your fingers!)

2.   Immerse the patient’s sting in hot water (no hotter than can be easily tolerated)

3.   If local pain is not relieved or immersion facilities are not available, the application of cold packs or wrapped ice is also effective.

For other non-tropical minor jellyfish stings:

1.   Wash off remaining tentacles with seawater, or pick off with fingers.

2.   Apply cold pack or wrapped ice for at least 10 minutes or until pain is relieved.

3.   Refer to medical aid for further treatment if condition deteriorates.

A quick note on some things that DON’T work for stings...

Lifeguards are often amused and entertained by the many strange and bizarre treatments people try to relieve the temporary pain of a non-tropical marine sting, such as;

  • Rubbing sand over the sting (it just gives you a rash around the sting)
  • Pouring soft drinks over the sting (just makes it sticky)
  • Pouring vinegar over the skin (is vitally important for TROPICAL marine stings, but not for non-tropical stings)
  • Urinating over the sting (it’s just gross, and doesn’t work anyway!)
To learn more, visit the dedicated marine stingers website 
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