Monday, August 23, 2010

Tybee sets a jellyfish sting record


Mix throngs of beachgoers with throngs of jellyfish and what do you get?


In fact, Tybee lifeguards have treated more than 10,000 jellyfish stings this season, said Lt. Hunter Robinson of Tybee Island Ocean Rescue.

In part, it's a record year for stings because there have been more potential victims. Tybee has seen healthy numbers of tourists, some who diverted to Georgia to avoid the threat of the Gulf oil spill.

To see what beach-goers have to say about the increase in jellyfish stings this summer, click play in the video box to the left.

The jellyfish have been there to greet those extra tourists in waves, both literally and figuratively. An unusually high population of lion's mane jellyfish plagued Tybee's surf in the spring and early summer.

That species prefers cooler water, so a later than normal warm-up last spring after a cold winter contributed to them overstaying their welcome at Tybee, said Beth Palmer, an educator at the Tybee Island Marine Science Center...

There's good evidence that jellyfish populations are increasing worldwide, said Dick Lee, professor emeritus at Skidaway Institute of Oceanography.

"Some areas that never had them before have them, and ones that had them before have more," he said.

Jellyfish research

Palmer, who's spearheaded a program she believes is the first in Georgia to collect data on jellyfish abundance, has been recording the number of jellies that wash up on a stretch of Tybee's beach.

Even these dead ones can hurt you, she cautioned, because their stingers are released with physical or chemical contact, not by the animal's control.

Jellies are poor swimmers dependent on the winds and currents to transport them. It's tough to know when they've peaked, Robinson said.

Lifeguards treated 400 stings on a recent Saturday, after seeing far fewer stings on the preceding days.

Still, it was about this time last year that Ocean Rescue recorded a sharp decline in stings. Robinson expects the worst is over.

Earlier this summer, Palmer was strolling through a tide pool when a slight current steered a jellyfish into her foot. She got her first-ever sting, one that kept her in pain for about 10 minutes.

But this self-described jelly-loving biologist hasn't turned on them.

"I think they're really pretty and really neat," she said.

Sting data
Number of jellyfish stings Tybee Island Ocean Rescue treated annually:
2010 (to date)............10,792

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