Expert: Box jellyfish influx biggest in years

Expert: Box jellyfish influx biggest in years
(Image:Hawaii News Now)
Box jellyfish
Box jellyfish

WAIKIKI (HawaiiNewsNow) - At least 88 people were stung by box jellyfish Wednesday morning, before Ocean Safety officials decided to close the attraction for the day.

Meanwhile, about 3 people were stung in Waikiki, and lifeguards counted 385 jellyfish.

The box jellyfish influx that started Monday is among the biggest over the last two decades, according to a University of Hawaii researcher.

Dr. Angel Yanagihara, who's with the John A. Burns School of Medicine, studies the monthly box jellyfish influx and said that over the last three days, her team collected 2,000 box jellyfish at Kuhio Beach. On Tuesday alone, her team collected 1,700 jellyfish.

The typical monthly three-day average is 273.

The influx started Monday, and the city decided to close Hanauma Bay to swimmers. The bay is typically closed Tuesday anyway, and Ocean Safety closed Hanauma again Wednesday after dozens of stings were reported.

On Tuesday, at least 120 people were stung in Waikiki and lifeguards counted more than 1,000 box jellyfish.

Some 140 box jellyfish were counted Wednesday morning.

Yanagihara said other large influxes were recorded in 2001 and 2008. Together, the three influxes are among the largest since Yanagihara started collecting jellyfish data 18 years ago.

What's behind the increase? Researchers say an increase in the marine animal's food source -- zooplankton -- is to blame.

"It's a natural ocean phenomenon" that occurs about every decade, she said.

Beachgoer Teresa Romero wasn't taking any chances on Tuesday.

"I could see a lot of people were getting stung because they're running to the life guards and a lot of little kids and babies started crying out of nowhere," Romero said. "Then when the parent brings them up, you see a large sting mark on them."

Hawaii sees an influx of box jellyfish every month, eight to 10 days after the full moon.

In summer 2015, with the help of Department of Defense funding, Yanagihara launched an over-the-counter spray and cream that treats jellyfish stings. It's called "Sting No More" and can be purchased online here.

A recent study found the product was the most effective way to treat a box jellyfish sting.

Other less effective methods that still work: Pouring vinegar or hot water over a sting.

Yanagihara is also working to develop an IV treatment for patients suffering from a life-threatening sting.

She hopes to have the technology available in two years and has proposed working collaboratively with professionals in the Philippines to bring the technology to that nation, which suffers an average of 20-40 jellyfish-related deaths a year.

In addition, Yanagihara is developing a more "field friendly" treatment for sting victims who don't have access to IV treatments -- a fast-acting dissolvable oral "wafer" that could be easily administered during emergency situations.

To learn more about Yanagihara's research, click here and here.

Copyright 2016 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved