What risks do I run from Portuguese men-of-war?

In this area (New England) in the past week there have been some sightings of Portuguese men-of-war. One guy was very badly stung all over his body but he lived to tell the tail. (I understand that at one point, he would have rather been dead, the stings are so painful.)

On the news I heard of that one encounter. My GF’s sister claims that hundreds have been sighted. A life guard said that “some” have been spotted.

Now here’s the thing – you’ll pry my summer away from my cold, dead, possibly stung hands. I will go in the water this summer, as often as I can. But am I a fool for doing so? Are there certain signs I should look for, such as onshore breezes? How tough are these things to spot? (I understand that 15cm across on the bell is pretty large, so that’s pretty small in choppy water.) What are the chances of getting stung by a dislogded tentacle?

Is my best bet to develop a deep-seated irrational fear of the ocean, or just say screw it and have fun?

Wikipedia article

Is this worth the “fun?”

Source: http://www.amonline.net.au/factsheets/bluebottle.htm

I actually read that before I poster. Is it worth it? I don’t know. Is it worth giving up my entire summer because of fear? I don’t think so, but it’s a personal decision I can only make for myself, of course. I’m trying to assess the likelyhood of a sting as well as how many stings I’m willing to endure.

I suppose I should mitigate risks, such as avoiding beaches without lifeguards or where stong onshore breezes are normal or are generally isolated from medical help, and bring things like a cell phone, surf shoes and gloves. Since I use a mask and snorkel 90% of the time I’m in the water, maybe I stand a good chance of seeing them before they strike. And it would kind of be cool to see one (nearly) up close.

What I can’t seem to find info on is how bad the problem is here, and how transitory it might be.

All I can say from personal experience is that I’ve never seen a Portuguese man-of-war on a New England beach. In Florida, however, I’ve seen them. The nice thing about them, as compared to other jellyfish, is that they stick up above the water. They’re not hugely obtrusive, and could be confused with sea foam if you’re unwary, but if you’re on the lookout you can avoid them. I’ve been in the water with them, and you give them a wide berth. The ones I’ve seen were on the small side.

Bottom line, I wouldn’t worry about it. Not when you can worry about Great Whites instead.

And I don’t worry about those too much. According to my father (who lives in Florida), don’t swim at dusk or dawn, don’t swim where large flocks of seagulls are feeding, and don’t swim where fishermen are enjoying great success. I would add not to swim in large seal breeding grounds.

By the way, Sal (and not to hijack my own thread), you up for dinner at Durgin Park on the 11th?

Thanks for the invite! Unfortunately, that day is tough for me.


At the age of 10, in Australia, I was stung by a Portuguese man-of-war on a beach. (We called them “blue bottles” – I only found out many years later that they were also called “Portuguese men-of war”). I remember it being extremely painful, but not life-threatening, as the life-savers had a treatment for blue bottles. Ever since then I’ve had a healthy respect for them, and kept them away from by bare skin, though I haven’t hesitated to pop them by stepping on them on the beach with my feet safely in shoes.

Though they are common at times on Australian beaches, I haven’t heard about fatalities, probably partly because people are generally wary of them, and partly because treatments are easily available.

tdn, if you’ll permit another hijack, what kind of mask do you wear for snorkeling? Around here the water is so cold that my mask fogs before I have time to put my face in the water. Spit is no remedy, nor is that spray stuff. Maybe I have to buy a more expensive mask?

I don’t know, I got it as a gift. It does fog up a bit, mostly in my left eye.

But I have a solution for you as to the cold water, if you promise not to tell anyone.

Go to the Gulf Stream. Buzzard’s Bay, Hyannis, or the islands. Stay away from that Duxbury crap.

Oh, man, there’s my problem right there – I always head north. But one of these days I’m going to look into getting an expensive mask that doesn’t fog. There must be such a thing, right?

Remembering from Florida during my childhood, if men-of-war are present, you’ll see them, either floating or washed up along the tideline. So it isn’t a matter of being surprised by a whole mass of them.
I remember the stings being painful, but not debilitating. IIRC, amonia we the recommended treatment.
Oh - and I was an asthmatic child when I was stung, and it was not a really big deal. Of course, there are always exceptional cases. Maybe I was just darned lucky, or else some other suckers are just darned unlucky.

It’s not much fun swimming at the landfill anyway. :frowning:

Sal Ammoniac, my e-mail should be in my profile. Message me and I’ll tell you the best places I’ve found to go. No wetsuit needed, even in early June!

The hell?!? I just thought the tide was always out!

This is good to know. GF and I are spending ID4 with her sister and BIL tomorrow. They are absolutely livid that we went into the water the other day, because as you know, PMOW snatch unwary swimmers and drag them to their deaths, without fail.

These same people go to Florida for three months every winter, and refuse to step foot into the ocean, because sharks eat humans every day.

Thanks for the 411 everybody. Just goes to show you how a little research beats rampant paranoia hands down.

Rub the glass with toothpaste, that trick has always worked for me, and fogging has not been a problem since.

Carry on.


Quite a lot if you’re in the England football team.

Ammonia… so does pissing on the poor chap stung by one of these things actually help? Or would it be adding insult to injury?

I’ve always heard that you could avoid stings by wearing pantyhose on exposed skin, although this may only be for certain types. Our local dive shop also carries small packets of sting treatment; wouldn’t hurt to carry some.