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Jellyfish Safety and first aid

Australian beaches are some of the nicest in the world. However, there are certain areas where swimming or water sports are not allowed due to the presence of jellyfish and other stingers. Specific species of jellyfish stings in Australia can be very dangerous, and in some cases may cause death, but thankfully these stingers and Jellyfish are rare. 

Almost all jellyfish stings are non-fatal, and only cause pain or itchiness. In fact, most people living in North Queensland have experienced being stung by a jellyfish or two!


The Australian Box Jellyfish

The Australian Box Jellyfish is the most dangerous of its kind, as stings can sometimes be fatal to humans. This extremely poisonous marine animal is found in Australia’s northern oceans all year round, so beware if you are visiting beaches in areas like Queensland and the Northern Territory. It is most dangerous during the wet season, which is any time from November to April. 

The cube-shaped jellyfish usually has four distinct sides, which is why it is referred to as a “box”. A fully-grown adult can reach up to 20 centimetres in length on each side and has tentacles growing up to 3 meters in length. It can reach up to 2 kilograms in weight too. 

There are usually about 15 tentacles on each corner, with each tentacle containing thousands of stinging cells. Box Jellyfish are transparent (or “see through”) and pale blue in colour, making them almost invisible in the water. In fact, for many years, it was unknown to authorities what was causing pain to swimmers, and sometimes even death. 

First aid for Box Jellyfish stings

Box Jellyfish stings can be so bad that they can sometimes cause a heart attack. If that is the case, it is important that proper CPR is performed. Still, the effects will usually depend on the amount of venom injected and where the person has been stung. The most important thing to consider is getting rid of the remaining stingers, which can be done by pouring vinegar over the tentacles and soaking for at least 30 seconds. This is the only time that the tentacles should be removed; otherwise they could release even more venom. Using vinegar as a first aid tool has saved countless lives. 

In mild cases, the effects of the venom can be treated with painkillers, antihistamines, and ice. More serious cases may require a trip to the emergency room. Most hospitals, ambulances, and medical centres usually have antivenin available for these stingers. 

Irukandji Jellyfish 

Irukandji Jellyfish is a type of Box Jellyfish. It is both the world’s smallest and the world’s deadliest. It is approximately 1 cubic centimetre in size, and its stingers cause the Irukandji syndrome. The Irukandji syndrome can cause pain and muscle cramps in the legs, back, and spine. Victims usually need to go to the hospital. However, a properly treated single sting is survivable.

Avoiding dangerous areas

Many beaches where dangerous species of jellyfish are found are patrolled, and swimming or water sports are usually prohibited. Simply follow the beach signs, and before you swim, research the beaches you plan to enjoy. Enquiries with local authorities can establish if jellyfish are in the area. As a general rule, never swim at a beach where there are no flags or lifeguards.

Australia is one of the most amazing countries in the world. It offers world-class beaches that are safe and enjoyable, as long as you follow the rules. For more information about living and studying in Australia, check out more of our blogs!


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