Pacific News Minute: Surge of Deadly Jellyfish in Australia

Jan 9, 2019

Irukandji Box Jellyfish
Credit GondwanaGirl / Wikimedia Commons

You’ve probably heard warnings about box jellyfish that swarm off Hawaii beaches from time to time, but there’s a different species of box jellyfish now in the waters off Australia with venom 100 times more powerful than a cobra.

The heat wave that’s caused record temperatures in Australia has warmed the waters offshore as well, and jellyfish are responding. Last week, more than 13,000 people were stung by a record surge of bluebottles.

Bluebottles are around Hawaii as well. They’re actually not jelly fish, but the indo-pacific variety of the Portuguese man o’war, and they’re nowhere near as scary as the Irukandji box jellyfish –the smallest and one of the nastiest jellyfish in the world. They’re named after the Irukandji people who live on the northeast corner of Australia near Cairns and the sting is so bad it usually sends people to the hospital.

Credit Cory Doctorow / Flickr

Aside from cramps and nausea and pain, the effects can include brain hemorrhages and a feeling of impending doom. Marine biologist Jack Barnes confirmed Irukandji syndrome in 1964 when he allowed one to sting him while his nine-year-old son and a lifeguard stood ready, and then rushed him to the emergency room.

According to The Guardian Australia, Irukandji stings have sent 22 people to the hospital so far this summer.  Jamie Seymour of James Cook University told The Guardian, “In Queensland alone, we put more people in hospital due to Irukandji stings than shark attacks, crocodile attacks and snake bites combined.”

He added that Irukandji will inevitably move further south into more populated areas as global warming sends water temperatures higher.