Box Jellyfish Emergencies In The Caribbean Sea

Box Jellyfish Emergencies In The Caribbean Sea

Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California.

Dr. Angel Yanagihara, a biochemist and researcher at the University of Hawaii’s Department of Tropical Medicine has prepared for the worse.

If Diana Nyad gets stung by box jellyfish or Portuguese man o war during her 103-mile swim from Cuba to Florida, Dr. Yanagihara will be able to identify the stinging creature and will be able to provide remedy for the potentially lethal stings.

Dr. Yanagihara has brought a scientific laboratory on board the Voyager, Nyad’s escort ship.

If Nyad is stung, Dr. Yanagihara can hand her a piece of tape to apply over the sting. Nyad presses on her sting gently and then removes the tape. Dr. Yanigahara then examines the remnant stinging cells or cnidae with skin cells that are adhered to the tape under a microscope on board. The type of cnidae will tell her exactly what kind of jellyfish has stung Nyad. Then Dr. Yanigahara can provide the appropriate treatment ointment on Nyad’s in order to blunt the pain of the jellyfish sting.

Dr. Yanigahara has studied various types of jellyfish venom and developed a treatment ointment that will be commercialized later this year. “Diana faced a double whammy on her swim,” explained the world’s leading expert on the box jellyfish. “She is swimming tonight at a point when the high tide and astronomical twilight two times at which box jellyfish may congregate at the ocean surface. So we must be prepared.”

Dr. Yanigahara and the staff from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute constantly was the lookout for the jellyfish, documenting the types and capturing samples for identification and examination of Nyad’s escort boats. The team brought boxloads of research equipment, including microscopes and testing tools. “Because she was stung so often, I have Plans A, B and C,” said Dr. Yanigahara who was onboard the mother ship Voyager throughout the journey. “I will be work off our mother ship and dingy, looking for jellyfish and stinging creatures.”

It was a jellyfish jamboree,” said Operations Chief Mark Sollinger about the chryasora, oliandias, ctenophores and 3 different carybdeid cubozoans that were identified by Dr. Yanigahara and the Woods Hole staff on the escort boat Kinship. Crews onboard the Dancing Girls and Sentimental Journey also saw all types of jellyfish at night.

The jellyfish are photophobic, meaning that they move deeper in to the water as the sun rises,” said Dr. Yanagihara. “They travel with the zooplankton that go up and down the water’s surface doing night and day. They follow their food source which is why they come up at night.

If we can identify the types of jellyfish, then we can better recommend the appropriate treatment,” remarked Dr. Yanagihara.

The green ointment that Dr. Yanagihara has developed immediately alleviates the burning, stinging sensations of the jellyfish. Dr. Yanagihara has spent years studying these creatures and developing medicines to blunt the pain caused by the barbs entering human skin. It will be commercialized later this year.

Photo of Diana Nyad by Christi Barli.

Copyright © 2012 by World Open Water Swimming Association
Steven Munatones