Jellyfish less of a threat this summer

San Diego County lifeguards and marine biologists are reporting fewer jellyfish stings than in previous years, but that doesn’t mean the gooey organisms aren’t still a threat.

“It’s a lot less than last year,” said Vince Levesque, who breeds and raises jellyfish at the Birch Aquarium. “I don’t really know what is causing the natural population fluctuations, but I would guess things like rain, which often affect nutrient levels in the water.”

But it is not like any beachgoers are actually complaining about a lack of jellyfish. While the kinds found off of the San Diego shores can pack a painful sting, they generally do not pose a fatal threat. Still, coming into contact with one can definitely ruin what was a good day at the beach.

“It can be pretty painful depending on if it is a young child or where they get stung,” said Solana Beach Lifeguard Lt. Jason Shook. “Obviously if you take one across the face and chest, you’re going to have some severe pain. But it’s more on a case-by-case situation and the individual’s pain threshold.”

A jellyfish stings when a swimmer makes contact with one of its tentacles, which consist of nematocysts, or stingers. Levesque compares the sensation to irritation from poison Ivy, while former surf instructor Sarah Goldstein said it feels more like a bee sting.

“The stinging doesn’t really last too long once you’re out of the water,” she said.

Levesque said the best thing to do when stung is to run hot water over the irritated skin.

“Hot water is almost universal as far as breaking down the proteins,” he said. “It’s a matter of your body being able to tolerate a higher temperature than the protein in the sting. It might scold you a little but it will get rid of the poison.”

Hot water can also be used to combat stingray stings, which are the other common threat to San Diego beachgoers. Stingrays feed in shallow surf, but are afraid of humans. Shuffling ones feet is normally enough to scare them away. But if they are stepped on, the stinger’s barb will break the skin, and because it carries bacteria, may require further treatment.

“The infection is much worse than the venom usually,” Levesque said. “If they’re not sure they got everything, they sometimes take an x-ray to make sure.”

Goldstein, who has been stung by both a stingray and a jellyfish, still does not hesitate to go in the water.

“As far as potentially dangerous sea creatures go, I think San Diego is about the safest place you can be,” she said. “Neither stingrays nor jellyfish are out for blood.”

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