Stinging Portuguese Man of War wash up on UK shores

Richard Harrington By: Richard Harrington
Date posted: 7 September 2012

Stinging Portuguese Man of War wash up on UK shores MCS warns beach visitors not to touch bizarre creature that’s not a single animal but a floating colony! MCS and Cornwall Council say they have received reports of several Portuguese Men Of War washing up on beaches in Cornwall just days after authorities in Ireland warned local beach goers about a spate of recent strandings of this potentially dangerous floating sea creature.

Stinging Portuguese Man of War wash up on UK shores MCS warns beach visitors not to touch bizarre creature that’s not a single animal but a floating colony! MCS and Cornwall Council say they have received reports of several Portuguese Men Of War washing up on beaches in Cornwall just days after authorities in Ireland warned local beach goers about a spate of recent strandings of this potentially dangerous floating sea creature. MCS says the Portuguese Man-of-War (Physalia physalis) are only occasionally reported in UK waters. The last significant number of strandings occurred in 2009, although a few were reported on beaches in south west Cornwall late last year. “Between 2003 and 2006 the MCS jellyfish survey received fewer than 10 reports of Portuguese-Man-of-War, then during the summers of 2007 and 2008 sightings increased, and in 2009 we received over 60 reports mainly from the west and south England and Wales, but also as far north as the Isle of Man,” says Dr Peter Richardson, MCS Biodiversity Programme Manager, “Last weekend a member of the public contacted Cornwall Council about a small number of what MCS identified as Portuguese Man-of-War washed up at Portheras Cove. We then had reports of similar sightings as Summerleaze and Widemouth beaches. Our most recent reports were from Portheras on Thursday morning (6th September). With the earlier strandings in Ireland, these recent sightings could herald the arrival of more of the creatures as they get blown in from the Atlantic.” The Portuguese Man-of-War isn’t a jellyfish but is closely related, and consists of a floating colony of hydrozoans - many really tiny marine organisms living together and behaving collectively as one animal. The Cornish Pasty-shaped, transparent purple float is characteristic and the blue, tentacle-like ‘fishing polyps’ that hang below the float can be tens of metres in length. “The Portuguese Man O War’s tentacle-like polyps deliver an agonising and potentially lethal sting,” said Dr Richardson, “Because a stranded Portuguese Man Of War looks a bit like a deflating purple balloon with blue ribbons attached, it may attract the curiosity of children. If you are visiting a Cornish beach this weekend it is well worth making sure you know what these animals look like and that no one picks them up. We are urging the public to report any encounters with Portuguese Man Of War through our website so we get a better idea of the extent of the strandings.” Rebecca Kirk, from Cornwall Council’s Public Health and Protection service supports the MCS advice: “A sting from these jelly fish may lead to an allergic reaction. There can also be serious effects, including fever and shock. Anyone who thinks they have been stung should seek medical attention immediately or contact NHS direct. Even though they are washed up on the beach they can still present a possible risk of stinging and parents are advised to ensure children avoid touching any washed up jelly fish.” MCS is urging people who spot a Portuguese Man-of-War to report the sighting immediately, ideally with a picture, at www.mcsuk.org (follow the Wildlife Protection link) where a Jellyfish ID Guide including the Portuguese Man O War can also be downloaded.

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