Takin' on the Jellies
There are 60 different kinds of jellyfish found in the coastal waters of Alabama. However, five of them are common to see while you're vacationing on the beach:
- Sea Nettles
- Moon Jellies
- Cannonball Jellyfish
- Portuguese Man-O-War
- Pink Meanies (their actual name)
Jellyfish belong to a large group of animals called coelenterates. They lack brains, blood, hearts, and bones but these free floaters can pack a powerful punch. Jellyfish have stinging cells on their tentacles and parts of their body. These cells contain a harpoon-like structure that eject a protein toxin. This toxin can paralyze small sea animals but it also causes a burning sensation on a person's skin.
Treating the Sting
The severity of the sting depends on what kind of jelly stung you. However, your first thought is going to be "I need to rub it off." Do Not Rub a Jellyfish Sting... it spreads the toxin and stimulates your skin to absorb more of it. Also, there may still be tentacles on you skin that you can't see and rubbing them will make them release more of the toxin. Use salt water from the ocean to pour onto the sting. Fresh water or bottled water will only stimulate the toxin and remaining tentacles. Use vinegar or 40-70 proof isopropyl alcohol to denature the sting, and meat tenderizer paste has been reported to subdue the burn as well. There's a local company called Jelly-Smack that has created a cream that neutralizes the sting and is sold at many places along the coast.
Jellyfish have a complex life cycle. Developmental stages can last several years, but adulthood is short lived. Jellyfish also fall prey to larger fish, dolphins, and sea turtles.
Sea Nettles are the most common jellyfish in the coastal waters of Alabama. They can grow up to 1 foot in diameter and have up to twenty-four tentacles. They have 4 oral arms, or mouths, and feed on small floating organisms and young minnows.
Moon Jellyfish can grow up to 18 inches in diameter and their domes are divided into 8 equal sections. They have multiple smaller tentacles and can produce a small sting. They eat tiny zooplankton, mollusk larvae, crustaceans, and small fishes. When a moon jelly has eaten, food items can be seen in the jelly's stomach, which is the flower shaped organ in the bell.
Cannonball Jellyfish have a firm, bell-shaped dome that can grow eight to ten inches in diameter. They are said to be one of the least venomous toxins in the stinging cells on their tentacles. They primarily eat zooplankton and red drum larvae. When disturbed or threatened, the cannonball jellyfish will secrete a toxic mucus that will harm small fish, and drive away most predators.
The domes on a Man-O-War can rise up to six inches above water and can be blue, pink, or violet. They pack a very powerful sting that can send most people to the hospital from the pain alone. It uses its feeding tentacles to sting and paralyze small fishes, pelagic crustaceans, and other invertebrates.
We know the name is a little childish, but Pink Meanies accurately describes this jelly. They can grow up to three to five feet in diameter and have up to 7 feet long tentacles. They prey on other jellyfish, mainly moon jellies, for food. Though they are considered not dangerous to humans, their sting can be quite painful.
Those familiar with the Alabama Beach Warning Flag System probably know what the green, yellow and red flags indicate. But do you know what the purple flag means? The purple flag is flown when dangerous marine life is present. Dangerous marine life can be anything in the water that is hazardous to humans. Of course, the first thing that comes to mind is sharks. But that is not usually the case. When our beaches fly the purple flags, it’s most likely because of the jellies...