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Up close with the Portuguese Man o’ War

Local diver Shaun Matthew Yeo came up close and personal with the feared Portuguese Man O’War off the Western side of the Rock near Rosia Bay recently.

The diving instructor took dramatic images showing the creature’s gas-filled sail on the surface and its stinging tentacles stretching for metres below.

The creature caught by the wide angle lens on his Nikon D3200 was snapped in the middle of a meal, with an unfortunate fish trapped beneath the sail in the process of being digested.

The image is enough to terrify most people out of the sea and back to shore but Mr Yeo, an experienced diver and underwater photographer, said he was not afraid, not least because he was protected by his full-body diving suit including hood and gloves.

Recent westerly winds have blown scores of Portuguese Man o’ War from the Atlantic in the Strait of Gibraltar and the bay, although there have been no reports of anyone being stung by them.

Over the weekend, lifeguards on the beaches were advising people not to enter the water, said lifeguard manager Alain Gatt.

Lifeguards removed any Portuguese Man O’ War that had washed ashore but left the ones still in the water alone.

With the wind now blowing easterly, the expectation is that the creatures will be blown back out into the Atlantic, although this will still take some days.

But the watchword for anyone venturing near the shoreline remains caution for now.

“Both our Environmental Protection and Research Unit and our Beaches Section are regularly patrolling the coastline as a precautionary measure and removing any specimens on or close to the shore to prevent stinging of users of the beach,” a government spokesman said.

“Swimming is not recommended in waters when the Man o’ War are in the area.”

Photos courtesy of Shaun Matthew Yeo

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