21 Nov 2015
November 21, 2015

Stingers in the Whitsundays

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Irukandji Stinger

Stingers in the Whitsundays is a concern for many travelling to our destination.

When is Stinger Season?
Experts prefer not to use the term “stinger season” as this implies that jellyfish are only prevalent during this time. Stings have occurred at all times of the year, however are more prevalent during the months of November to May. November to May is therefore termed “high season” or “peak season” for marine stingers as they are more active and more numerous during this time.

What are my chances of getting stung by an Irukandji?
Rare. Out of the millions of “people days” each year in the Great Barrier Reef waters, in a particularly bad year, only around 100 Irukandji stings occur in Queensland which require medical treatment. However, getting stung by one of these creatures, regardless of how rare, can be life threatening and at the very least can ruin your holiday. It is therefore important to follow a few simple precautions to further lessen the risk of being stung.

How can I prevent being stung?

  • Wear protective clothing such as a full body lycra or neoprene suit. This is the number 1 way of preventing stings as suits protect up to 75% of the body and cover areas where stings more commonly occur. Not all suits offer equal protection – lycra or neoprene offer the greatest protection.
  • Wear protective clothing, even if wading, as most box jellyfish stings occur when wading.
  • Enter the water slowly (i.e don’t run in) as Box Jellyfish will often swim away if given the time and opportunity to do so.
  • Swim between the flags and follow Life Saver’s advice if swimming at patrolled beaches.
  • Be aware of high risk conditions for Irukandji – sustained NE winds, flat or calm weather, sea lice felt in the water and/or salps present (look like crushed ice washed up on the beach, or a machine gun bullet belt when swimming in the water).
  • Always carry vinegar when going boating or undertaking other marine activities.

Always ask your tour operator about wearing a sunsuit if it is not included in the price. They are the people that are out there everyday on the water and know the surrounds where they take you.

The other good piece of advice that I give out is, they are also a good sun protection.  It only takes one bad dose of sunburn to wreck your holiday and the sunsuit will protect the back of your legs and your back from our harsh sun whilst you are snorkelling. Don’t worry if you don’t look good, no one else is looking because they are all too keen to get in the water to see the fish and coral.
Box Jellyfish
The less common Box Jellyfish are typically large, with substantial bodies and numerous tentacles on each corner. Their stings can cause death in previously well humans in as little as 3 minutes. Different species reach different sizes, ranging from approximately 10 – 30cm tall.  The body is transparent, and usually difficult to see in the water. Box jellyfish stings cause immediate severe pain, often likened to an iron or hot oil burns. The tentacles are often left on the skin, and will cause additional stinging if not neutralized by vinegar. Severe box jellyfish stings will have a “ladder-like” appearance, and will “frost” the skin. Substantial stings covering half of one limb can be fatal.

Please note: If you do happen to get stung by one of these “stingers”, do not by any means rub the sting area. Apply vinegar immediately and seek medical attention urgently. Dial 000 for an ambulance. Do not re-enter the water.

High-risk conditions
While research is still active in developing accurate prediction methods for Irukandjis, one or more of the following conditions appear to contribute to heightened risk:

  • Calm water, especially in sheltered bays
  • Height of summertime
  • Warm water temperature
  • Sandy beaches with low wave action
  • Proximity to river-mouth

Note that it is still possible to get stung during the following conditions:

  • Open water
  • Out of season
  • Bad weather eg south-easterly conditions