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Water Savvy
© 1999 Kawika Sands

Jellyfish have been around for 650 million years. Before sharks and dinosaurs. The largest ever recorded had a bell eight feet across and tendrils over 100 yards long (I saw one off Calf Island, Long Island Sound, New York, with a bell about 2-2˝ feet across!).

Efficient predators, they use sting cells called cnidocyteseach containing tiny harpoons called nematocyst. When triggered, they also activate nearby cells to inject their toxin. The painful sting sometimes causes scaring, possibly anaphilactic shock and in some rare cases, cardiac arrest.

There are more victims of the box-jellyfish than there are of sharks, particularly in Hawai'i and Australia. Some species in Australia can kill in as little as 30 seconds! Box-Jellyfish are clear 1-3 inches tall, with tendrils 2 feet long and can be found on the leeward beaches of Hawai'i 8-10 days after a full moon with occasional strays at other times. Portuguese man-o-war are purplish-blue, 2 inches high with tendrils about 30 feet long and can be found on windward beaches during trade winds, and leeward beaches during the "Kona winds."

Put on gloves to protect yourself from any residual toxin then examine the affected area to be sure that all the tentacles are gone. Any remaining parts of the jellyfish are to be removed with forceps or tweezers. Treatment may involve a 30-60 minute immersion of the affected skin in water as warm as can be tolerated comfortably. Salt water is better than fresh because it helps to break down the toxin. This soaking is followed by a rinse with household vinegar (5% solution of acetic acid to dissolve the toxin). Large welts that sometimes rise from a particularly bad entanglement are sometimes treated with steroid creams or antihistamines.

Some people are convinced that meat tenderizer can soothe the pain. Here's the "household remedy" approach: Pour vinegar on the area infected to remove the stingers. Use of a Benadryl® cream, or oral antihistamine is also recommended. After 20 min., rinse with salt water. Using meat tenderizer (i.e. Adolph's Natural Meat Tenderizer®) on jellyfish stings might be safe for those who rarely experience them. However, for those who work in and around water and experience stings more frequently, it could be harmful. Keep in mind that meat tenderizer can tenderize your skin too. Plus, there may be a new ingredient in some of the products that might even be harmful. If you're a MANLY man (or woman), I hear urine works too.

Sharks have been around for 200 million years. In Hawaiian culture it was kapu to kill or eat it particularly in certain Hawaiian districts that worshiped it as an aumakua (a family god). It was once thought to be the incarnation of the dead, possibly a deceased relative, but the practice ceased for the most part after the introduction of Christianity. It's skin is used in making drums.

Hawaiian legend held that some sharks never harmed, and even protected, those who fed and petted them (need I say NOT to try this?!!!). A mano ihu-wa'a ([lit] bow shark) was a shark said to rest its' head on the outrigger of a canoe and was loved and fed by Hawaiian fisherman. Niuhi is the name given to a shark that is a man-eater.

Very little is known about what makes them work, but one thing is certain, they are NOT the menace portrayed in Hollywood films. They are important to the ocean's ecosystem and are simply animals looking for food. They are to be respected, not feared.

When sharks DO attack, they may not know they are attacking a human. A hand or foot may look very much like the tail of a fish to them. Surfers run a risk of attack (from underneath, the usual approach of an attacking shark) because they look like a seal (a favorite food of the shark). Especially when they wear black wetsuits. Yellow may not be a good color in Hawaiian waters because it's the color of the bottom side of the green sea turtle.

40% of the world's shark attacks occur in an area off the Northern California coast called "The Red Triangle" stretching from Bodega Rock, to the Farallons, and down to Monterey. Actually, the possibility of a shark attack is unlikely in the extreme (you stand a better chance of being struck by lightning). However, there are some things you CAN do to improve your odds:

1. If you have a bleeding cut, get out of the water as soon as possible! (this also applies to women who are menstruating). Sharks can sense blood at one part per billion or up to a ˝ mile away.

2. Stay together! Sharks are more likely to attack an individual than a group because a group looks less like a fish.

3. Do not panic! Erratic movement or impulses attract sharks because it may be similar to the impulses of an injured fish which it can sense up to a mile away (sharks may be drawn to children and pets for the same reason).

4. Keep clear of commercial fishing lines, kelp beds, out croppings, reefs and other shore areas where sea life may be plentiful. These are favorite feeding grounds of sharks.

5. Stay away from metal or electrical equipment in the water. Sharks move toward these because they give off certain electro-magnetic fields that attract them.

Shark repellents? Science is continuing to research the matter with a low-tech solution derived from the excretion of a sole-type fish, with limited results. And, a high-tech device called P.O.D. (Protective Electronic Device). It sends out an electronic field attacking a point on the shark called the "ampule of lorenzini." It met with some success . . . until a shark ATE it! Of course, this was just a few years ago so they may have made some refinements. Any volunteers? To date, there remains only ONE clear answer: Education and common sense.

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Last Modified: Saturday - 19991113.10:01 EST
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