They look beautiful, but jellyfish can have a nasty sting in the tail
A jellyfish sting can ruin a day at the beach. Ella Walker explains how we can share our shores with these wibbly-wobbly species
This summer, anyone spending time on the beaches along Northern Ireland's east coast may well have encountered some very large jellyfish.
Last week, Rebecca Hanna saw a huge lion's mane jellyfish - larger than a dustbin lid - on the beach as she walked her dog at Greencastle in Co Down.
While moon jellyfish are more common in this part of the UK, it seems the larger lion's mane has been infesting the Irish Sea along the Co Down coast.
Rebecca Hunter, of the NI Marine Task Force, says the number being spotted in the water or on the beaches is uncommon and warned that they retain a very strong sting, even if washed up for some time.
But what exactly are jellyfish, and what should you do if you come across one while swimming, or strolling along the sand this summer?
According to The Marine Biological Association, there are more than 200 species of "true" jellyfish, but only six species are commonly found in British waters. They are:
- Moon jellyfish (Aurelia aurita) - it has four white rings you can see through its umbrella.
- Compass jellyfish (Chrysaora hysoscella) - has dark "compass" markings on its umbrella.
- Lion's mane jellyfish (Cyanea capillata) - has red and orange tentacles in bunches.
- Dustbin-lid jellyfish (Rhizostoma pulmo) - these can grow up to 90cm across.
- Blue jellyfish (Cyanea lamarckii) - this is bright blue.
- Mauve stinger (Pelagia noctiluca) - these sting and are capable of bioluminescence (creating its own light). Jellyfish - although some can provide their own momentum - are generally at the mercy of currents, so are often washed up.
Your best bet to avoid a nasty sting is to be vigilant, especially in warm, shallow waters, which they love.
If you spot a floating jellyfish, don't try and move it or wave it away, just move out of its path and alert others to its presence.
If there are large numbers that are hard to avoid, get out of the water and, if the beach has a lifeguard, let them know.
Often, lifeguards put up flags if there's a significant jellyfish population nearby. Alternatively, wear a full body wetsuit, or protective waterproof footwear.
If you do get stung, get out of the water immediately and have someone remove any attached tentacles with tweezers. Apply a heat pad or run the sting under hot water. Antihistamines can help relieve swelling while paracetamol can help with any residual pain.
Usually, aside from sore, you'll be absolutely fine - but, as with anything, seek medical help immediately if you show sings of a severe allergic reaction or become short of breath.
And don't listen to anyone who says urine will help with the sting - it's not true!