Massachusetts Beaches Now Have to Deal with Jellyfish

Jellyfish attack Boston area beaches!

jellyfish-in-bostonPoisonous Portuguese men-of-war, in an unusually large invasion, stung at least 14 people in Massachusetts during the last week, prompting periodic swimming bans on Cape and Islands beaches during one of the summer’s busiest holiday weeks.

Local and state officials say the intermittent beach closings may continue through Thursday, as the jellyfish-like creatures continue to wash up on beaches from Westport to Nantucket. However, they believe that shifting winds should carry the strange creatures, which are more common in tropical waters, back to sea after that.

None of the stings appear to be serious, although several people were taken to local hospitals for evaluation. Contact with a tentacle, which can dangle 50 feet below the surface, can bring painful welts that look like whip marks. Some people are allergic to the stings and, in extremely rare cases, they may cause anaphylactic shock, which can cause death.

Yesterday, Nantucket officials prohibited swimming on about 13 miles of south-facing beaches, but reopened much of the area in the afternoon, after winds died down and numbers of the creatures appeared to decline.

In Falmouth, Menauhant Beach was closed early in the day, but lifeguards later put up a sign that said swimming was allowed “at your own risk.

Chapoquoit Beach in Falmouth also closed briefly when eight men-of-war washed up on the shore or were spotted near the beach.

“These are very dangerous creatures,” said Jeff Allen, a firefighter and lifeguard captain on Nantucket, where a young man was stung Sunday. Allen said no decision would be made on Fourth of July beach closures until this morning. He stressed that beachgoers still could swim on the north side of the island, where none of the organisms have been spotted.

Sunday on Nantucket, lifeguards reported about 100 of the animals in a 2-mile stretch on the west end of the island.

Beaches have been closed temporarily or warnings posted over the past week in Westport, Marion, Mattapoisett, Chilmark on Martha’s Vineyard, and Little Compton, R.I. The creatures have also been spotted off South Beach in Edgartown, on Chappaquiddick, and along other areas of Southeastern Massachusetts, including in Buzzards Bay.

Beach officials have been educating beachgoers to be on the lookout for the blue, pink, or purple iridescent blobs floating on the surface. Some beach officials have also been stocking up on meat tenderizer, which is believed to ease the sting’s pain.

While a few dozen of the animals drift into local waters every year in late July, local marine biologists say they cannot remember a time when the creatures appeared so early or in such overwhelming numbers. In Westport on Friday, hundreds of the organisms were seen in the water and scattered on the shore, said Charlene Wood, town administrator.

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