Warning to dog walkers after venomous sea creatures wash up on Lancashire beaches

A venomous sea creature whose stinging tentacles can cause severe pain to humans has been found washed up on Preesall Beach.

Tuesday, 9th November 2021, 2:50 pm
Becky Clarke discovered the venomous Portuguese man o' war whilst walking her dogs on Preesall Beach this morning (Monday, November 8). Pic: Becky Clarke

Becky Clarke, from Preesall, discovered the Portuguese man o' war whilst walking her two dogs on the beach, halfway between her hometown and Pilling, on Monday (November 8).

Resembling a jellyfish, these alien-like man o' war are usually found in tropical and subtropical waters and spend most of their time at the bottom of the ocean.

But strong winds can drive them onto beaches where their venomous tentacles pose a risk to both humans and dogs and can still sting days after being washed ashore.

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Becky, who works at Northern Kilns/Pilling Pottery, said: "It's unusual to come across these on Preesall Beach. They must've been blown in by the bad weather.

"I've never found any before and I'm on the beach a lot as I walk my dogs most days there.

"I pick up rubbish when I'm walking them, so I bagged them up and put them in the bin so no dogs or people get stung.

"I only found the two, not far from each other, they were halfway between Preesall and Pilling.

"They look incredible with their vivid colours, but their sting is meant be very nasty for humans and dogs, so I bagged them up and binned them."

The Portuguese man o' war have also recently been found on Ainsdale Beach in Southport.

Georgia de Jong Cleyndert, a marine conservation officer for the Wildlife Trusts said we can expect more of the creatures to wash up on Lancashire' s shores.

She said: "We have received reports of Portuguese Man O’ War washing up near Preesall, Lancashire over the weekend. It seems these open ocean drifters are slowly being blown up the Irish Sea.

"These jellyfish-like animals normally live in the open seas but the strong and persistent winds and autumnal storms that we have been experiencing are causing them to be washed ashore.

"Sightings of Portuguese Man-o-War ( Physalia physalis ) occur every few years in the UK but are rarer this far north in the Irish Sea, although sightings are increasing.

"These beautiful creatures are not ‘true jellyfish’ but very close relatives of jellyfish, corals and anemones. They are siphonophores – a group of highly specialised clones called ‘zooids’ that all work together as one animal. Each of their zooids takes on a different form and function. Some are specialised for feeding, some for catching prey and even one for floating.

"They are held afloat by a bright blue-purple gas filled bladder, which has a crest like structure at the top and acts like a sail.

"They can't swim and are at the mercy of the winds - which is why they often end up washed ashore after big storms.

"They have blue tentacles that hang below the surface, stretching over 10m in length, which have thousands of stinging cells that deliver venom to paralyse and kill their prey (small fish and crustaceans).

"Though it is rarely fatal for humans, their sting can pack a painful punch. They can still sting even when dead so keep children and dogs away.

"With a changing climate and the prospect of more stormy weather, it is also likely that there will be an increase in the frequency of occurrence of strandings of these beautiful open ocean drifters."

How dangerous are Portuguese man o' war?

Stings usually cause severe pain to humans, leaving whip-like, red welts on the skin that normally last two or three days after the initial sting, though the pain usually subsides after about 1 to 3 hours.

But the venom can travel to the lymph nodes and can cause symptoms that mimic an allergic reaction, including swelling of the larynx, airway blockage, cardiac distress, and an inability to breathe.

Other symptoms can include fever and shock, and in some extreme cases, even death, although this is extremely rare.

The stinging, venom-filled nematocysts in the tentacles can also paralyze small fish and other prey.

Even detached tentacles and dead man o' war (including those that wash up on shore) can sting just as painfully as the living ones in the water, and can remain so for hours or even days after death.

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