Portuguese man-of-wars on SC coast deliver ‘tough sting’

SC DNR

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WBTW) – Beachgoers, beware: a creature known for its excruciating and venomous sting could be washing up on a beach near you.

According to the SC Department of Natural Resources, there have been several reports of Portuguese man-of-war washing up on beaches along the South Carolina coast this week.

“They’re very pretty to look at but very dangerous to be around or try to handle,” said Tim Handsel, Director of Husbandry at Ripley’s Aquarium in Myrtle Beach. “The tentacles can reach over 100 feet long, can wrap around shoulders, legs, arms and give a very tough sting and you’ll have to go to the hospital.”

Though the animals are usually found closer to deep waters near Florida and Texas, the recent sustained onshore winds have temporarily brought the creatures to the South Carolina coast.

Handsel said while the creatures are dangerous in the water, you could also get stung by one on the sand.

“These animals are very good at surviving for hours and hours after they’ve been up on the beach,” he added.

The Southeastern Regional Taxonomic Center says the man-of-war does not actively attack humans, but the organism’s tentacles deliver a potent neurotoxin designed to paralyze the small fish and crustaceans they eat.

Heather Morrison was stung by a Portuguese Man-O-War while vacationing in the Outer Banks in October. “It look four to five hours for the sting to completely go away,” she added.

Morrison had never seen a Man-O-War and was not familiar with its potent sting.

“One of the tentacles touched my finger, it touched like three fingers, and it instantly burned so bad,” she said. “I actually went to the Urgent Care down there and they said, ‘Well, if it was a Portuguese Man-O-War then you need to go to the E.R.'”

Handsel’s advice is to keep an eye out when you head to the beach.

“You won’t see the Portuguese Man-O-War being blown up behind you,” he said, “That’s why beach-goers are stung while they’re in shallow water because it gets blown up on top of them.”

If you are stung, medical researchers suggest rinsing the area with lukewarm, fresh water and icing the area.