Portuguese man o' war sightings on the rise at Nova Scotia beaches
HALIFAX -- If you’re planning to head to one of Nova Scotia’s ocean beaches, you might want to take a jug of vinegar along with your other beach supplies.
The province confirms there have been recent sightings of Portuguese man o’ war along the shores of some Nova Scotia beaches.
While there are no plans to close beaches at this time, warning signs are a possibility.
Andrew Parrott spends a lot of time at Lawrencetown beach, and was there with his family on Sunday when they witnessed an unsettling incident.
“A young girl had come running out of the water in a lot of pain and distress, grabbing her hand,” says Parrott.
It was seven-year-old Maria Legge, who had snatched what she thought were a pair of pink sunglasses floating in the water.
It turned out to be a Portuguese man o’ war that had washed ashore.
After treating Maria and verifying the sea creature, hospital staff bagged it up for disposal. By that time, its bright pink and purple colours had faded to an earthy brown.
“Their appearance is dependent on the warm surface waters and steady winds coming from the south,” says Andrew Hedba, the former curator of zoology at the Nova Scotia Museum.
Experts say there’s traditionally a man o’ war sighting in Nova Scotia every decade or so, but recently, sightings have been on the rise. In 2017 there were at least three reported sightings of the organism at Nova Scotia beaches.
Australia reports about 10,000 stings a year.
“The point is not to engage with any of the tentacles,” advises Hedba. “If you see them, you can report them, but do not pick them up because they do have a fairly powerful neurotoxin. It’s painful to people.”
The Nova Scotia government confirms there was a second sighting at Rissers Beach on the South Shore, but says there are no plans to close any beaches at this time.
Instead, officials say they are monitoring the situation and looking for ways to warn beachgoers, which could include signage.
In the meantime, they’re asking anyone who sees a Portuguese man o’ war to phone it in.
“We haven’t seen a big, huge uptick in cases,” says Dr. Nancy Murphy, medical director of the IWK Health Centre's regional poison centre.
Dr. Murphy says vinegar is an ideal first aid, but bathing a sting in seawater will help too.
Scraping off remnants of tentacles with a bank, or credit card, is also helpful in keeping victims out of the emergency room.
“The important thing to know is not to rub the area at all, because that will absolutely release more venom, and not to use freshwater because that can also release more venom,” explains Dr. Murphy.