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Delicate creatures have painful sting

The Nautilus Project’s marine biologist Lewis Stagnetto issued a warning on the Portuguese Man O’War, a delicate creature with a powerful sting that has been washing up on Gibraltar’s beaches over the long weekend.

“The Portuguese Man O’War are driven by winds and the recent storms have driven them in from the Atlantic waters which are their usual habitat,” Mr Stagnetto told the Chronicle.

He adds that the Gibraltar coastline tends to get them at around this time of year due to increased storm activity out in the Atlantic.

However, “this year has seen more condensed storm activity with high winds that have driven a greater number to our shores,” he said.

“Portuguese Man O’War do not swim and are driven by winds. As soon as the winds change they will stop arriving on our beaches. They will head wherever the wind blows,” Mr Stagnetto added.

However, there could be more than we are witnessing at present reaching our shores in the future due to the amount of plastics in the oceans.

“A top Portuguese Man O’War predator is the turtle. Turtle numbers are being reduced drastically through plastic ingestion or entanglements. Fewer predators mean an increase in the number of these organisms surviving as any beach goer can attest to,” said Mr Stagnetto.

Despite its appearance, the Portuguese man o' war is not a true jellyfish but a siphonophore, which, unlike jellyfish, is not actually a single multicellular organism, but a colonial organism made up of specialized individual animals of the same species called zooids or polyps.

These polyps are attached to one another and physiologically integrated, to the extent that they are unable to survive independently, and therefore have to work together and function like an individual animal.

Mr Stagnetto told the Chronicle the best thing to do if someone or a dog is stung is to seek medical advice.

“There is conflicting information available on how to treat a Portuguese Man O’War sting. Some internet sites say use vinegar some say vinegar makes it worse so please don’t rely on online sources. Therefore, any Portuguese Man O’War stings should be consulted with your doctor or vet,” he said.

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