It’s that shriek and that cry that resonates along the beach. A child screaming in the distance while holding his leg or arm in pain… And we know “jellyfish got um.” Time and time again box jellyfish have been known to cause a lot of pain, redness, soreness and sometimes send people to go to the hospital if the sting is severe enough.
I wanted to get to the bottom of why and when these stingers are in the water and how come they follow a certain schedule. Did you know their activity is based on the moon? These are questions I had for one of the world’s most noted jellyfish researchers, and yes, she is right here in Hawaii just a stones throw away at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.
Dr. Angel Yanagihara is a world renowned jellyfish expert and her research has been featured in countless medical journals, the New York Times and even the Discovery Channel. But, what I love about her is that she is tirelessly working to solve the jellyfish mysteries and help the community by coming up with better ways to treat those nasty stings.
With the most recent full moon on Saturday, July 12, we are in the midst of a jellyfish influx right now. And even at the time of this writing, Yanagihara and researchers collected 592 jellyfish so far Monday morning.
1. So why are the jellyfish influxing right now? “They appear 8-10 days after each full moon,” Yanagihara said. What is it about the full moon and the tides that cause them to come to shore? They are trying to figure this out right now.
2. What’s the difference between a box jellyfish and a Portuguese man-o-war? “Box jellyfish belong to the class of jellies called cubozoa, man-o-war or Physalia sp are siphonophores another class,” according to Yanagihara. If you frequent Bellows or other Windward beaches you know it doesn’t have to be influx time to get stung, unfortunately.
3. Why do the man-o-war frequent the Windward waters at all times?
“They are blown by the wind and cannot purposefully swim. They have gas filled float that acts like a sail. They would not be blown into the leeward shore except during times of prevailing Kona winds,” she said.
4. What is it that you are studying in regards to the jellies?
“It is hard to answer that in one or two sentences since I have spent 17 years focused on a variety of biochemical and physiological questions related to box jellies. I have identified the fastest acting and lethal pore forming protein, or porin, in the venom. I have also developed specific inhibitors of this venom porin. This technology is not an ‘anti-venom.’ Anti-venoms are antibody based approaches that work well in snake bites but are far too slow for the box jelly porin,” Yanagihara said.
5. What have you found thus far and who has benefited?
“I have provided this treatment technology to combat divers and to Diana Nyad and her team in her Cuba to Florida swim,” she said.
Yanagihara was a night diver monitoring box jelly numbers and applying jellyfish sting treatment as needed for Diana Nyad, for her 2012 attempt and 2013 successful continuous 53 hour swim from Havana to Key West. Speaking of treatment… what are the myths versus truths when it comes to treating jellyfish stings? Stick around later this week I will post a follow-up blog breaking down how to best treat the painful sting after it happens.