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When in Wied l-Għasri, be careful what you touch

Beached Portuguese man o’ war colony reported

Photo: Danica Bonello Spiteri

Photo: Danica Bonello Spiteri

A beached Portuguese man o’ war colony has been reported at Wied l-Għasri.

The Spot the Jellyfish citizen science campaign said on Tuesday it received an alert from Danica Bonello Spiteri about the colony.

Campaign coordinator Alan Deidun said the species Physalia physalis, was not a true jellyfish but rather a siphonophore colony of four different types of polyps known as ‘zooids’. It was rarely observed within Maltese coastal waters, with the campaign recording it less than 10 times since August 2009.

Most of the previous sightings were made along the western and north-western shores of the islands.

Prof. Deidun warned that the species inflicted very painful stings and the venom in detached tentacles and even in dead specimens could remain active for a few days. This meant that dead specimens should not be touched.

Applying vinegar or alcohol could intensify the sensation of pain as this triggered the firing of further stinging cells.

The best treatment would be to apply hot packs or immerse in hot water, as specified within the Med-jellyrisk sting treatment booklet available for free download on the Spot the Jellyfish website.

The colony has an air-filled bladder called the marissa or sail through which it managed to float. It is commonly known as the Portuguese man-o-war as it resembles a 16th century vessel of Portuguese design, known as the caravel, which had triangular sails similar in outline to Physalia.

Some polyps are specialised for capturing prey, others for feeding and others for reproduction, such that they are inter-dependent on each other. The species is native of tropical and sub-tropical areas of the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean, occasionally being projected into the Mediterranean in spring by persistent westerly winds.

The Spot the Jellyfish campaign enjoys the support of the Malta Tourism Authority (MTA) and of Nature Trust, Friends of the Earth, EkoSkola, the BlueFlag Malta programme and Sharklab.

The initiative follows a citizen science approach and relies on the collaboration of the public, mariners, divers, and especially the younger generation through their teachers and parents, by recruiting their assistance in recording the presence and location of different jellyfish through the use of a dedicated, colourful reporting leaflet.

The leaflet is being widely distributed, and can be directly downloaded from here. It is replete with snippets and anecdotes about different jellyfish species. With the support of MTA, large posters have also been projected on seaside boards along major bays on both Malta and Gozo.

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