This is why I hate close encounters with jellyfish!

By David Higgins

Being almost transparent makes jellyfish very difficult to spot, even in shallow waters.

One fine August morning in Okinawa I drove down to the Sunabe Seawall to the swimming spot with the steps down to the ocean. The ocean looked gorgeous; the sea was flat, calm, and blue. As I approached the last slippery step I jumped with abandon into the ocean.  Immediately there was PAIN, BURNING, and STINGING all across my arm. I quickly jumped back out of the ocean onto the concrete steps.  A fisherman saw my agony and announced “Kurage”, which is the Japanese word for jellyfish.

This was not the first time I have been stung by a jellyfish. I have had so many encounters with jellyfish in my life that I consider myself something of an expert. Once I was stung square in the middle of my back while I was surfing. This jellyfish sting immediately made my ears start to ring, my lymph nodes began to tighten up so much I could barely paddle, and my heart began to beat in a rapid, panicked flutter. I completely understood how people swimming could die from a jellyfish sting. Thank God I was on a surfboard for buoyancy.

Jellyfish in Okinawa waters come in many varieties but most are better to be let alone in order to avoid a painful sting.

Are you aware of how to treat a jellyfish sting?  There is the advice that urinating on the jellyfish sting is better than nothing if you are far from being able to receive medical attention. Well, this is actually a myth.  Urinating on a jellyfish sting does not do anything except smells horrible. There is also the advice of pouring vinegar on the area, but vinegar is also not that effective.  The way a jellyfish sting works is that most of the venom from the jellyfish has already entered into the victim through the barbs in its tentacles. Vinegar will only stop venom from the barbs that hasn’t been injected yet.  Therefore, if there are still strands of jellyfish tentacles on the victim that haven’t been activated yet, then vinegar would help disable those barbs from stinging.

Once a jellyfish sting has happened, the best way to treat the sting is to treat it just like a regular wound. Clean it thoroughly and add an ice pack to help stop the swelling. If the victim is having a reaction to the sting, then going to hospital is necessary. I have been to the hospital twice for a jellyfish sting, and while I was in agony the doctors gave me muscle relaxants and sprayed anti-inflammatory spray onto my wounds. Half an hour later I was drinking a cold beer with an ice pack on my back. The sting on my back left a mark of red tentacle lines for two weeks.

Last week I visited the very same spot on the Sunabe Seawall.  As I approached the steps down to the ocean, I noticed that no one was swimming.  I overheard some of the junior high school students shouting that unforgettable word, “Kurage”.  This word no longer strikes fear into me, but vengeance. I immediately had to know where this jellyfish was.  Spotting a jellyfish from the top of the water is difficult even if you have x-ray vision as they are transparent, so I put on my snorkel mask and slowly and stealthily slipped into the water.  I spotted the jellyfish, rose to the surface and called out to my companion to get me something suitable to jab at it with. My companion came back with a beautifully appropriate long spear usually used for fishing. I easily jabbed the jellyfish and tossed it onto the Seawall steps.  Due to all the terribly painful and dangerous experiences I have had, I felt no remorse for killing this creature.

I borrowed a snorkel to check around the swimming area to see if this jellyfish had any friends lurking around. We were all in luck that he was a loner, and we enjoyed our swim safely and without fear of getting stung by this unfriendly creature.

10:05 18 Jul , 2024