Stinger squad: We're at the tail-end of the annual jellyfish boom

Marine biologist Alan Deidun said that Malta was experiencing the tail-end of the annual mauve stinger jellyfish bloom due to a longer than average winter, that brought with it prolonged rain and cold spells lasting into May

At 700 million years jellyfish are among the oldest living species on our planet
At 700 million years jellyfish are among the oldest living species on our planet

Malta is experiencing the tail-end of the annual mauve stinger jellyfish bloom due to a longer than average winter, that brought with it prolonged rain and cold spells lasting into May.

Marine biologist Alan Deidun said this bloom is usually experienced earlier in spring, the result of a massive reproduction event happening early in winter every year.

But the delayed appearance of jellyfish later than usual could be attributed to a prolonged cold spell that hit Malta last longer than usual.

Box jellyfish - common in our yacht marinas
Box jellyfish - common in our yacht marinas

“The two issues might seem disjointed but rainfall patterns on land actually impinge on jellyfish populations given that rainfall leads to runoff, which in turn disperses zooplankton populations within coastal waters that the jellyfish depend upon,” Prof. Deidun said, adding that any bloom or swarm was unsustainable in view of the massive volumes of food that it consumes, expecting them to “disappear in the coming days and weeks.”

Indeed, the start of Malta’s hot summer so far has seen less complaints about jellyfish.

Deidun said stingers washed up on Maltese beaches were part of the “zillions of dead by-the-wind sailors endowed with a bright indigo colour when they are alive”: colonies of polyps, propelled by a sail protruding out of the water, consisted of chitin, the same stuff insect wings are composed of.

Last year's massive mauve stinger bloom 2018
Last year's massive mauve stinger bloom 2018

“These ‘living sailing boats’ known as ‘qlugh’ in Maltese and ‘bargetta di San Pietro’ in Italian normally appear much earlier in the season, however, jellyfish communities are reliant on climatic conditions.” Approximately 40-50 jellyfish species have bene recorded to date from Malta’s waters.

“The stingers one should steer clear of are the mauve stinger, the Portuguese man o’ war – which is actually a colony and not a single jellyfish, and responsible for the only mortality known from a jellyfish sting in the Mediterranean – the box jellyfish, common in yacht marinas, and the nomadic jellyfish, an alien species native of the Indian Ocean. The remaining 30-40 odd species are pretty much innocuous.”

At 700 million years jellyfish are among the oldest living species on our planet.

Massive fried egg jellyfish bloom Wied l-Ghasri summer 2018
Massive fried egg jellyfish bloom Wied l-Ghasri summer 2018

Marine biologists believe one of the reasons for the massive influx in jellyfish is over-fishing which, to an extent, has eliminated competitors for food.

The Spot the Jellyfish campaign, a citizen science initiative launched back in 2010, provides sound advice on treatment for jellyfish stings.

“Plans are also in the works to integrate Artificial Intelligence in the form of an image analysis algorithm within the Spot the Jellyfish website so as to enable automated identification of the jellyfish species, rather than rely solely on lengthy human observation for validation of submitted reports,” Prof. Deidun said.

Massive 2014 Velella bloom Blue Hole Dwejra Gozo
Massive 2014 Velella bloom Blue Hole Dwejra Gozo

Treating jellyfish stings

  • Never apply fresh water, alcohol or compression bandages to jellyfish stings
  • Seek medical help immediately if the person stung has breathing difficulties or is in shock
  • If pain persists after first aid measures or there are any complications, consult your pharmacist or doctor as the affected area may benefit from painkillers, steroid preparations or antihistamines
  • And remember the myth of curing a jellyfish sting by urination is, just that: a myth. Instead it can actually aggravate the sting, causing more pain and discomfort.

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