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Jellyfish Around Malta and What to do if Stung.

Updated: May 21, 2023

We have received several reports of hordes of jellies surrounding the islands, so, we thought it would be best to sum up some facts that may help you if you encounter these stinging, gelatinous monsters. We have spoken to several sources and came up with the following information to share with you, and what to do if you are stung.


A mass of mauve stinger jellyfish, found while kayaking Malta.
A mass of mauve stinger jellyfish, found while kayaking Malta.

Do you carry a first aid kit with you on your kayak, or when you go swimming? Later on, we will discuss what to put in your bag.


All jellies belong to the phylum Cnidaria, There are more than 2,000 different types of jellyfish around the world. However, scientists believe that there could be as many as 300,000 different species that are yet to be discovered. Of the 2,000 known species, only 70 can be harmful to human beings (world atlas). Luckily for us Maltese, we only have to worry about a couple of them.


Mauve Jelly:

Mauve Jelly, photo credit https://www.facebook.com/agiosgordios24hrssurgery6/
Mauve Jelly, photo credit https://www.facebook.com/agiosgordios24hrssurgery6/

The Mauve Jelly has been the main villain this 2022 summer and has been spotted nearly everywhere. Sometimes you will see just one, and sometimes you can find literal carpets of them!


They are easily seen by their purple hues floating on, or near the surface, and sometimes much deeper, making them quite a pest to ocean swimmers, snorkelers, SUPers, and kayakers alike. Contrary to popular belief, urinating on a sting site does little to no effect on this sting. Vinegar doesn't work either.


The very best thing you can do for a sting from a mauve is to evacuate the area, if possible, but keep the wound in the seawater. If you bring the wound into the air, the stingers release more venom, so, sometimes, staying in the sea helps to neutralize the wound. Some people have reported complete elimination of pain, but they managed to stay in open water for around 30 minutes.


***Do not, under any circumstance, touch the affected area with your hands. You can and will transfer stinging cells to new areas of your body.***


Jellyfish tentacles have spring loaded, barbed harpoons to inject their venom. Credit https://www.science.org.au/
Jellyfish tentacles have spring loaded, barbed harpoons, called nematocysts to inject their venom. Credit https://www.science.org.au/

If that simply isn't possible, the very next best thing is to take an old plastic credit or loyalty card and scrape the wound (in one direction only). This action can remove any residual stingers. Afterward, create a slurry, or paste, with bicarbonate of soda and seawater (do not put freshwater on mauve stings, it makes them worse), and apply it on and around the wound for five to ten minutes. Then remove all residue of this mixture and leftovers of tentacles.


As soon as possible, apply cold compresses for 20 minutes, then off for 20, then repeat.


It is important to note, that even dead jellyfish that wash up to shore can still sting if they come to contact with your skin! (https://www.aquarium.com.mt) For this reason, it is NOT ADVISED to put jellyfish anywhere near the sea to die.


When you put jellies on the sand or rocks to die, all you have done is created a spot for someone to get stung that cannot see it as it evaporates. The jellies die, but the stingers do not.


Fried Egg Jelly


Fried Egg Jelly, on its side, during September bloom in Malta. Credit Pete Bullen
Fried Egg Jelly, on its side, during September bloom in Malta. Credit Pete Bullen

When you see one of these things for the first time, it might scare you a bit due to its massive size. I still remember the first time I saw one near Santa Marija Caves. Daniela knew straight away that these huge, but relatively harmless jellies often roam the shores in September time, and they grow to the size of a basketball (50cm or more).


These jellies are found near the surface because the algae that actually cause the stings need sunlight to properly function.


This jellyfish spends a lot of time motionless, slowly pulsing its bell while drifting. The numerous short, club-like appendages extending from it contain mouth-arm openings through which the jellyfish traps prey and feeds. The primary prey of the Fried Egg Jellyfish is zooplankton and other jellyfish.


These appendages are usually colored a deep purple and while stingers are present, the sting has very little effect on humans. Its sting is so mild that the tentacles sometimes provide shelter to small fish in the open ocean. (https://oceana.org/)


Mediterranean Box Jellyfish


Mediterranean Box Jellyfish: Credit: officialmalteseislandsweather
Mediterranean Box Jellyfish: Credit: officialmalteseislandsweather

There has been a lot of fuss and worry over this recent visitor, but they are far from new, as the name implies, this species lives and hunts its prey in the waters of the Mediterranean Sea. Unlike its deadly Australian counterpart, this jelly is quite painful and can leave long-lasting marks and scars, but is not deadly like the Australian version.


They are also mostly prevalent in areas where swimming is either prohibited by law (in marinas and ports) or uninviting (enclosed areas of more stagnant water), and therefore the chance of encountering them whilst out on a swim are very little (officialmalteseislandsweather). However, being that most of us are more adventurous than other people, best to look extra careful for these during your breaks.


Unlike the mauve jelly, vinegar does work with these jellies, so, add a small bottle to your first aid kits.


Natural Remedies


Our friend and member, Noel Attard, was stung in Gozo and used natural remedies to cure himself.


Take a look, just after the sting:


Noel's right arm after being stung in Gozo, jelly unknown.
Noel's right arm after being stung in Gozo, jelly unknown.

After his sting, he used the juice of the pigface plant, seen below, as well as prickly pear juice to heal himself.


Pigface plant, credit Noel Attard
Pigface plant, credit Noel Attard

Take a look at his after shot, well done, Noel!


Noel Attard's arm, after utilizing natural remedies, credit Noel Attard
Noel Attard's arm, after utilizing natural remedies, credit Noel Attard

In Closing....


If you haven't already, it would be best to update your first aid kits before your next outing. Ensure you have the proper tools just in case something happens.


We always say "It is better to have and not need than to need and not have."


Make sure you start to carry the following items in your kits:


Tweezers or old plastic card

Bicarbonate of soda

Small container to make a slurry (paste)

Latex gloves to protect yourself

Small bottle of white vinegar

Gauze

Compress wraps

Instant ice bags (you pop them and the bag gets cold)


Please note: Although some of these jellies are not lethal, if you get stung, and are having issues breathing, seek medical attention right away, as you may be having a systemic allergic reaction called anaphylaxis, which can be fatal if not in the care of professionals.


When going kayaking or open swimming, it is best to notify someone on shore of your intentions and when you plan to arrive home.


There are several apps you can use that will send a current, live location to anyone, or a group of people, of your choosing.


If you need help finding a solution, just reach out and ask.


Don't forget to check the Jellyfish Map here http://www.maltaweather.com/jellymap.asp from Malta Weather!


Thanks for reading, and see you next time!


May your waters be calm and jelly free :-)


Team G.O.A.K.

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