Irukandji stings rise as jellyfish season hangs around longer in southern Queensland

Lucy Murray
Swellnet Dispatch

Nineteen people have been taken to hospital with suspected Irukandji stings in Queensland so far this season — almost double the 10-year average, according to the Australian Marine Stinger Advisory Service (AMSAS).

The total includes eight people flown by rescue helicopter from Fraser Island off south-east Queensland in the past two weeks.

Associate Professor Jamie Seymour, from James Cook University, said calm and warm conditions at Fraser Island had made it a hot spot for the jellyfish.

"We've certainly seen this over the years, that the numbers of jellyfish that we're getting down there seems to be increasing, and the length of time they're down there seems to be increasing," he said.

"If you look 10 to 12 years ago when we first found them down there, we only find them for a three- to four-week period.

"Now you're getting stings and people stung over a two- to two-and-a-half-month period."

Some of the Irukandji jellyfish caught on Far North Queensland beaches during the 2015-16 stinger season (photo: Mark Rigby)

'Shaping up to be a pretty bad year'

AMSAS director Lisa Gershwin said it was "shaping up to be a pretty bad year".

"You can't really say there is a hot spot this year — they [Irukandji] have been up and down the coast," she said.

"There have been clusters at Fraser Island, there have been clusters at the Whitsundays, there have been clusters in Cairns region, and stings in between."

Dr Gershwin said the weather conditions were only part of the reason for the increase.

"Certainly it has been really hot, and I think that may have something to do with it," she said.

"We have seen a lot of onshore winds, that certainly must have something to do with it.

"Also natural variability from year to year, so if you think flowers in your garden — some years they go gangbusters and other years you are practically begging them to bloom — that's just the nature or nature, things have variability from year to year.

"The last couple of years have been less than we expected, so it may just be that nature is making up for it by more this year."

Dr Gershwin has been stung twice by Irukandji.

"I have never had Irukandji syndrome — I have been incredibly lucky — stupid, but lucky," she said.

"For people who have had Irukandji syndrome, it's pretty bad — 10-out-of-10 on a pain scale, difficulty breathing, nausea and vomiting, profuse drenching sweating, a feeling of impending doom.

"Most people make a full and complete recovery, a fraction require life support, some end up with permanent heart damage or permanent neurological damage."

An Irukandji jellyfish (photo: AAP)

Winds whip bluebottles onto Queensland beaches

The more common bluebottle jellyfish have been washing up on Queensland beaches this season due to the onshore winds.

"They are directly at the mercy of the winds," Dr Gershwin said.

"There are armadas [of bluebottles] out there [in the open ocean], with squillions of bluebottles and because they have got that sticky-up sail, when the wind comes up it grabs the ones with the sail going the right way.

"They get blown until at least the wind dies down or they are beached somewhere — the more wind we get the more bluebottles we get."

Lifeguards on the Gold Coast said Cyclone Penny, which is currently sitting in the Coral Sea, could be pushing the bluebottles to the coast.

Surf Life Saving Queensland (SLSQ) said that during the past week since December 28, 13,243 bluebottle stings had been treated by lifesavers and lifeguards across Queensland, many at popular beaches on the Gold Coast and the Sunshine Coast.

More than 18,000 stings were recorded during December in Queensland, compared to just more than 6,000 for the same period last year.

Gold Coast lifeguard Luke Ingwersen said the bluebottles were a lot worse.

"Every day over all the beaches on the Gold Coast there are hundreds and hundreds, each beach you could easily have one or two hundred and we have almost 40 beaches open every day," he said.

Mr Ingwersen said with north-easterly winds sticking around, the bluebottles would keep coming in until at least the end of the week.

"They cause a lot of trouble — they really hurt — there is not much we can do to prevent them," he said.

"The best thing to do is look for them on the water's edge, check if the lifeguards or lifesavers have a sign up that says 'Caution Marine Stingers'."

Lifeguards on the Gold Coast say wind conditions mean bluebottles will remain a risk for the next few days (photo: Emma Siossian)

Seawater best to wash venom away

Dr Gershwin said the best treatment for bluebottle stings was quite simple.

"The hands-down best remedy for a bluebottle string is the one endorsed by the Australian Resuscitation Council," she said.

"They recommend you rinse well with seawater to rinse away any of the stinging cells still on the skin that haven't injected venom yet, and then use hot water or ice for the pain.

"Fresh water will actually force the stinging cells to inject more venom, so you really want to wash them away with the seawater before you apply the ice or hot water."

Surf Life Saving Queensland recommends people ideally place the affected area in warm water for around 20 minutes, or if there is no warm water available, apply an ice pack.

© Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved.


dangerouskook2000's picture
dangerouskook2000's picture
dangerouskook2000 commented Saturday, 5 Jan 2019 at 7:35pm

What about vinegar? That used to be the go back in the day.

warddy's picture
warddy's picture
warddy commented Saturday, 5 Jan 2019 at 9:08pm

Sharks and Jellies , our saviors in crowd control on the Queensland coasts

andrew-pitt's picture
andrew-pitt's picture
andrew-pitt commented Saturday, 5 Jan 2019 at 10:10pm

Thanks Swellnet - another great article

Surely there is a relationship between;

*) greater quantity of blue bottles and Irukandji in southern Qld - more than x3 reported blue-ie stings in December compared to last December;

*) colder water in northern nsw & Sydney - see fantastic analysis by Craig about the Ekman Spiral

*) but boardshort water in southern NSW (like Tahiti they reckon);

*) and the near absence of blue-ies down Sydney way this season (which in my mind turn up in a thick flock/school(?) after a 3rd day of easterly to ene winds.)

these things have to be linked.

quokka's picture
quokka's picture
quokka commented Monday, 7 Jan 2019 at 8:52pm

Surfed Werri Beach this morning and there were blokes in steamers. Bit fresh for boardies and nowhere near tropical.

Switchfoot bob's picture
Switchfoot bob's picture
Switchfoot bob commented Sunday, 6 Jan 2019 at 1:37am

Mans control in many ways ends at the shore. As an old sea dogs saying goes.

bigwagon's picture
bigwagon's picture
bigwagon commented Sunday, 6 Jan 2019 at 12:58pm

Any explanation as to why bluebottles are blown to shore on a north east wind, but not a south east wind? If bluebottles wash up along most east coast beaches, then it would suggest bluebottles congregate off the majority of the coastline.

Agitator's picture
Agitator's picture
Agitator commented Sunday, 6 Jan 2019 at 2:43pm

Pissing on a bluebottle sting works great, it's a proven fact! It's hot and it's salty!

So much bullshit use to float around decades ago about what you should do if stung by a bluey and one of those crocs of BS was to rub sand onto the sting area to remove the stingers....WTF!!! where the fuck did that fuckin bullshit spring from!!! I did that when in my teens and it nearly killed me no BS!....drove the poison into my system quick smart which then tracked straight to the lymph nodes in my groin and under my arms which promptly induced a good half hour of intense agonising squirming in the sand on the beach before I could even think about getting up and moving on.

Try it for your self next time you get stung by a bluey if you have no access to hot water, piss on the sting and experience the instant relief. It, unlike rubbing sand onto the sting actually works.

truebluebasher's picture
truebluebasher's picture
truebluebasher commented Sunday, 6 Jan 2019 at 3:42pm

Blue Bottles/Jelly Fish (Treatment)

[Avoid] x Fresh Water x Vinegar x Urine x Alcohol x Sand x ('can' spark nematocyst )

{Caution} Vinegar can be used to treat unknown Tropical Stingers (Not South)

(Good to Use)

*Warm Water is recommended by all but hard to source (Surprisingly on hot beach)

*Salt Water is also fine to wash off sting

SLSQ- Treat with *Cold Ice Packs from crew's mini fridge

SLSA + Govt Health have no warning against *Coconut Oil (Advice is by Lifeguard)
Gold Coast City Council Lifeguards (Due to solo/cab crew) Treat with *Coconut Oil.

GC Swimmer lobbied SLSQ to adopt his... *Coconut Oil/herbs brew...

Home Remedy *Coconut OIl (Further details effect of Coconut Oil)

Here's a excellent CRC research article on Life of Stingers.

SLSQ (Chapter 3) All Marine Stingers...Details '1st aid' for each stinger. (Excellent)

Australian Resuscitation Council (Details All Stings + Patient Care Guidelines)

truebluebasher's picture
truebluebasher's picture
truebluebasher commented Sunday, 6 Jan 2019 at 6:06pm

Local Saltwater People brews
Jelly Stings -Swamp Lilly
Stingrays- Grey Mangroves

Link to Swellnet 2018 Irukandji

Recent upsurge in statistics still follows set Irukandji time & locale pattern.
* New Years is height of season for all Marine stinging critters
* Don't wade N/Western shores of Sandy Strait Islands (Fraser down to Straddie)
* Late afternoons are the peak time.
* Avoid shallow sun drenched Bays / Pools / Creek Mouths

Full Sun is known to feed symbiotic algae to Jellyfish. Possibly a similar attraction!
Upfront, that's my wacky theory!
I said that to keep you on your toes as plenty of guess work & by our best right now!

Most recent ABC report:

' Irukandji don't congregate around Wathumba Ck.'
'There's No association with Irukandji at Creeks/Rivers.'

Today's News is wrong & misleading on these fronts.
Past stings occurred at Fraser Island Cks.- Wathumba Ck / Awinya Ck / Woralie Ck
My advice is to keep clear of any NW Island creek mouths / shores during season.

Solitude's picture
Solitude's picture
Solitude commented Sunday, 6 Jan 2019 at 9:34pm

I was sitting on my beach this evening watching wave after wave of blue bottles being washed in. I saw something I’ve never seen........long blue tenticles leading up to and inside the entrance of many a crab hole. It seems little ghost crabs don’t mind the taste of blue bottles.

truebluebasher's picture
truebluebasher's picture
truebluebasher commented Monday, 7 Jan 2019 at 2:21am

Solitude's crab is not alone wanting a snack on a Bluebottle.

Animals that eat Bluebottles (Standard List)
Sea-*Turtles *Octopus *Sunfish *Blue Dragon *Solitude's Crab *Snails *Shells
Birds-*Seagulls *Pied Oysters

Most Animals that eat Bluebottles often eat Jellyfish (Vice versa)

Jellyfish can complete a clean maze run dumped in dark/rough ocean.
No other critter of any terrain can come close to such 100% Nav Perfection.
This makes Jellies the best ocean surfers even without their sun compass.

Coincidentally critters that eat Jellyfish also pride amazing Navigational traits.
Wanna Glow in the dark & surf upside down then eat up your Jelly'O's No.1 Son!

Turtles & other diners get stoned on Jellyfish toxin. re:(Finding Nemo Stoner Turtle)

Turtles cry > Butterflies get stoned then Crocodile gets mega Stoned
Watch how stoned Croc gets when Butterflies tenderly nurture.(Pusher Butterflies!)

Animals that eat Jellyfish (Maybe also Bluebottles)
*Sharks *Octopus *Swordfish *Sunfish *Turtle *Tuna *Salmon *Banner Fish *Goby
*Blue Rock Fish *Cardinal Fish *Spade Fish *Sea Anemones *Crabs *Snails *Slugs
*Red Sea Mushroom Coral
Birds- *Penguins *Seagulls * Northern Fulmars

These lists aren't that well researched so expect quite a lot more species.

Can any jigsaw that cross species navigation Masterclass? That's a real spin out!
Think that's weird...Apparently Jellies have led to 2 Nobel Prize Winners.
I'm sure this one will light up your Brain Cells.

The Fire's picture
The Fire's picture
The Fire commented Tuesday, 8 Jan 2019 at 11:05am

I wanna glow in the dark and surf upside down!

Peace maaaan..

OllieB's picture
OllieB's picture
OllieB commented Friday, 11 Jan 2019 at 11:59am