Portuguese man-of-wars wash up in Hamptons

Venomous Portuguese man-of-wars, native to the Pacific and

Venomous Portuguese man-of-wars, native to the Pacific and Indian oceans, have washed up in the Hamptons. (July 1, 2013) (Credit: Doug Kuntz)

Dozens of venomous Portuguese man-of-wars have washed up on East End beaches, but officials said the large stinging jellyfish-like animals should not put a damper on the July Fourth holiday.

Eight man-of-wars were spotted on beaches in Southampton Town, 25 were collected from Hither Hills State Beach in Montauk and another 20 were found at beaches in East Hampton Town. None were seen alive in the water.

Two swimmers were treated for minor stings at Hither Hills but it was unclear if the injuries were from jellyfish or man-of-wars, said Jim Macfarlane, captain of the beach's lifeguards.

Eric Shultz, president of the Southampton Town Trustees, said the man-of-wars, between 8 inches and 10 inches in diameter, were found through the weekend by volunteers monitoring piping plovers. They were also found in the tide line in Amagansett and Montauk on Friday.

"They're pushing east," said John Ryan, East Hampton's chief lifeguard, adding he thought they would be gone by Wednesday.

The carnivorous animal has a clear blue-tinted sail that floats on water, while its poisonous tentacles dangle below, sometimes growing as long as 165 feet, and are used to catch food such as small fish and plankton, according to Animal Diversity Web, an online database.

"The tentacles are made up of cells that have a little harpoon in them with toxin and when they are physically touched, that fires the harpoon," said Bill Wise, interim director of New York Sea Grant.

Portuguese man-of-wars, most often found in warm tropical or subtropical waters and far out to sea, are common in Florida and the Gulf of Mexico. But they can appear in the North Atlantic when water is warm and winds are out of the southwest, as has been the case on Long Island.

"They are completely passive floaters and are affected by wind and currents," Wise said. "These animals have been blown up on our shore from the south."

Ryan last saw them seven years ago. Shultz said he hasn't seen them in Southampton in about 10 years.

East End lifeguards were warning beachgoers, but did not foresee major problems. "If there were thousands of them, I'd be concerned," Shultz said. "It's not a huge influx."While vinegar is often used to ease the pain of a jellyfish sting, that is not recommended for a man-of-war sting. The best thing to do is remove the tentacle from the skin and rinse with fresh or salt water, then apply ice or heat, Ryan said.

"Do not apply vinegar," Ryan said. "You'll make it worse. It's a different sting than you would get from just a normal jellyfish."With Mitchell Freedman

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