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Beauty but a beast


“Douse it in Vinegar”, “rub sand in it”, “pee on it” “Use Stingose” over many years growing up on the beaches of Byron Bay I have seen to many screaming kids (my own son one of them)and adults that have been stung by “The Bluebottle” I have been told multiple different ways to treat the sting. However, I don’t really know that many people that carry vinegar or Stingose in their beach gear nor is it actually worth it!

I have never been stung by a “Portuguese Man ‘o War”……the bluebottles correct name. It is often mistaken as a jellyfish but it is a Siphonophore, which is very different to a jellyfish in that it is not actually a single creature. It is a colonial organism made up of many minute individuals called zooids….”The Bluebottle” is in fact a little community, they are attached to one another to the extent that they are incapable of independent survival.Due to the fact they are at the mercy of the wind you will see them much more prevalent when the winds blow Northerly and Easterly in our area. They are naturally found in the deeper ocean waters off our coast lines, and when these prevailing winds blow for days on end we tend to find this not so loved acquaintance silently lurking in and on the shores of our favourite beaches.

They were named the “Portugese Man ‘o’ War” after a 16th century English armed sailing ship that was based on an early Portugese vessel. For the sake of this story – I am going to continue with the name “Bluebottle”. First up I think they are beautiful but I know that they have venomous tentacles that can deliver a powerful sting. I have seen my Dad pick up the tentacles (on a lump of sand in his hand) and stretch them out for over 10ft in some cases even more.

Bluebottles live on the surface of the ocean and we usually see them blown all over the beaches in similar weather to what we have had in the last two days. Strong onshore winds. We have approximately 10,000 stings in Australia each year, which leave welts that look like you have been whipped. I have seen surfers in particular get stung by them down their wetsuits, under t-shirts, up their board shorts, saw my dad cop one right across the eyes as he came up from a duck dive. I even unfortunately witnessed a close friend go in to full Anaphylactic shock on the beach at Wategos when he was stung around the neck (he was fine after treatment).

According to Surf Life Saving Australia the best way to treat a Bluebottle sting:

  1. Wash off remaining tentacles with seawater or pick off with the fingers (this is not harmful to the rescuer usually)
  2. Immerse the stung area in hot water (no hotter than the rescuer can tolerate)
  3. If local pain is not relieved cold packs or wrapped ice is also effective.

Vinegar is NOT recommended for treating stings. Vinegar actually increases the toxicity and can worsen the symptoms of the stings.

In any case if you get stung get over to our greatly appreciated Surf Lifesavers, or if it is severe, down to the emergency ward at the local hospital. The best remedy is stay out of their way if you see them on the beach or in the water.

They are best left for the Loggerhead Turtles, their skin is to thick to be stung and they actually enjoy them as a tasty snack!




Kirra Pendergast is the editor of Common Ground Australia. An award winning photographer, Kirra first picked up a camera at 12yrs old. Her photography has been widely published in everything from international newspapers through to Rolling Stone Magazine (which was a major bucket list tick) Kirra is always out capturing photographs of things as varied as the immense power and beauty of the ocean, storms, and the breathtaking landscapes of Northern NSW. Kirra's photographic passion is music, portraiture and street photography. Born and raised in Byron Bay, Kirra's family has spent generations in the Northern Rivers hailing from Lismore, Tuntable Falls, Tregagle and Byron Bay. Kirra is passionate about supporting local music, creatives, the arts and local business using Common Ground as a platform to promote this place, its people and their passion.


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