Posted by: adventuressetravels | May 24, 2011

Deadly Beauty

The water was a millpond, so clear you could see straight to the bottom.  The endless stretch of azure should have looked inviting, would have looked inviting, if it hadn’t have been for the dark purple splashes of color littering the expanse.  So much for my morning swim, I thought.

Portuguese Man of War jellyfish floated under the surface.   If I hadn’t known how dangerous they were they would have been absolutely beautiful.  Like sea flowers in a moving painting they glided past the boat.  Dark purple patterned bodies with their deadly little filaments drifting behind them like spider web strands blowing in the wind.   They were the kind of beauty I feel a haiku should inspire.

These didn’t look anything like the Portuguese Man-of-Wars Susie had pointed out to me the day

Portuguese Man-of-War

before floating on the ocean which hadn’t looked like they could possibly be alive. When the first one was floated past the boat, I was sure somebody had dumped a zip-lock bag over the side of a boat and it was floating on top the waves in the middle of the ocean.  Then there was another, and another.  Little half-inflated plastic bags bobbing along the ocean surface.

The captain assured me this new dark purple variety was also Portuguese Man-of-War jellyfish though.  I wasn’t going overboard that day to tempt fate.  Especially after the captain told me his story.

Jellyfish had nearly been the salty seadog’s untimely end.  Years earlier he had been sailing in Mexico.  It was dark when the boat anchored.  As soon as the anchor grabbed and the boat was set for the night the captain wanted to do some night diving, go exploring and see if he could catch dinner.

He grabbed his dive light and cannon-balled off the side of the boat… Into an ocean of jellyfish.

Tentacles wrapped around his legs, arms and chest again and again.  The more he tried to swim the more jellyfish he encountered.  Every square inch of ocean was filled with poisonous tentacles.  One sting was painful, but the hundreds of thousands he was getting… he was in sheer agony.

It was all he could do to make it the few feet back to the swim ladder and gasp for help.  And then the real terror started.

His crewmates hauled him up on deck where he collapsed.  Barely able to breathe he gasped for a syringe.  The stings weren’t just painful.  They were deadly.  He was going into anaphylactic shock.  His heart was stopping – his lungs were seizing up.

By sheer luck there were syringes, antihistamines, and epinephrine on board and the captain had just enough energy to guide one of the crew members through giving him the injection.   But it had been a close call.   If he hadn’t gotten an injection in time there is no question he would have died.

The jellyfish came in waves.  For 20 minutes hundreds would float past the boat, then for half an hour the water would be clear.  But it wasn’t long before another wave of jellies floated past.  After the third or fourth wave I had made up my mind:  I wasn’t getting near the water that day.

Later that afternoon the captain and other crew members invited me to go dive the nearby wreck.  I declined.  I didn’t want to get near the water all those jellies had been floating in.  Even after the tentacles break off they can still wrap around your body and sting you.  And the tentacles break off all the time.

I was lucky I made that decision.  When Tony, Susie, and the captain came back to the boat they were all sporting jellyfish stings.  It hadn’t been anything like the captain’s story, but still.  Even one jellyfish sting hurts.  Luckily we had vinegar on board and didn’t have to resort to peeing on the stings to alleviate the pain.*

*To help jellyfish stings or fire coral everyday vinegar is one of the best treatments.  The acid in it deactivates the poison in the sting.


  1. Gosh I never knew they came in droves! Gives new meaning to the phrase, “piss and vinegar.”

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