Jellyfish in The Mediterranean

Floats Like a Butterfly, Stings Like a Bee

No, this is not a legendary tale of Muhammad Ali who quoted his own style of boxing. Instead let’s talk about a creature of the sea that floats effortlessly with the tides with the grace of a ballet dancer. Just like a theatre production returns to major cities each year to perform for their audiences, the common jellyfish returns to the waters of the Mediterranean each year with less likely positive reviews. 

Understanding a little bit more about the jellyfish just might help you appreciate these ocean dwellers that have been around for 650 million years.
To date, there are about 1000-1500 different known species of jellyfish worldwide. They get their name from their physical makeup which is 90-95% water. The other percentage is made from salts and proteins. Typically, they can live anywhere between a few months to 3 years, but there are some that have a longer life span through regeneration and rejuvenation. 

How do jellyfish swarms come about? 

Jellyfish swarms or blooms consist of large numbers of jellyfish which may exhibit sudden outbreaks from time to time. Annually, the Mediterranean experiences blooms of different specials as the waters warm and the water currents carry them in. See, Jellyfish don’t actually swim, but instead move with the currents. As members of the plankton family, some jellyfish can use pulsating movements to control vertical movements but mainly can’t dictate their position against prevailing currents.
Some scientists believe that factors of jellyfish blooms are more likely due the demise of the sea turtle population in the Mediterranean as well as warmer waters due to climate change. 

It may well be that the recent observed increases in jellyfish numbers are simply part of natural life cycles. 

There are no jellyfish which are restricted to the Mediterranean but there are jellyfish species which are very common in the Mediterranean Sea. These include the mauve stinger and the fried egg jellyfish.  

The Mediterranean is additionally being colonized by alien jellyfish species coming in through the Suez Canal, mostly from the warmer waters of the Indian and the Pacific Ocean. Examples include the upside-down jellyfish, the nomadic jellyfish and the Australian spotted jellyfish.  

Understanding  Jellyfish Risk? 

One of the first misconceptions is that ALL jellyfish sting. The fact is that many jellyfish do not sting.
The breeds that do sting are known as stingers and typically use their stinging cells known as cnidocytes to capture prey or for self protections from predators.

In cases where humans get stung, it may be through accidental contact or mistaken identity as prey. Venom is injected into the bather’s skin with levels of moderate discomfort to sever pain or even lethal from the Australian sea wasp. ]

JellyFish in The Maltese Islands

Jellyfish seem to make their way back each year in the Maltese Island between April and September. Many will get eaten by fish, molluscs, and seabirds.
Right now, there is bloom occurring of the most common known as mauve stinger which gets its’ name from their pink/mauve colour . The sting comes from the dangling tentacles that streams from their bodies and can cause what some describe as a highly irritating sting. Some reactions may include a burning sensation, intense pain, inflammation and red skin rashes. 

How to Treat Jellyfish Stings?

Avoid the old wives tale that urinating on a jellyfish sting is the best way to relieve the pain. This simply is not true. 

Instead, follow these practical proven relief methods. 

  • Soak the infected area in sea water (Do not use fresh water as it may instigate a higher toxin release). 
  • Do not rub the affected area. 
  • If available, apply a mixture of seawater and baking soda (1:1 ratio) for two minutes. This will stop any further release of venom from the stinging cells left on the skin. 
  • Use a plastic credit card to remove any residual tentacles and excess baking soda mixture 
  • Apply cold packs for 5-15 minutes. For example, use a bag of ice or even cold drink wrapped in a cloth 
  • Assess the degree of pain and reapply cold pack if required for further 5 minutes. 
  • If pain persists, consult a doctor or pharmacist who should prescribe painkillers and/or anti-inflammatory creams e.g. 3-4% Lidocaine and Hydro cortisone. 
  • DO NOT wrap in bandages nor use vinegar, fresh water, alcohol and ammonia, all of which can aggravate the situation further. 

NOTE: Jellyfish washed ashore may appear dead, but can still inflict a sting. Be prudent. 

If you visit the Maltese Islands, there are several Spot The Jellyfish Warning Signs with identifications of species known to area, treatment methods, and sighting report information and contact details. 

You can send your reports to www.ioikids.net/jellyfish. 

Come and dive with us at DiveSMART Gozo and enjoy the underwater world at Blue Hole