Whitsundays Stinger Season
The Whitsundays and Great Barrier Reef Marine Park provide the perfect home environment for a huge variety of marine life, including a number of different jellyfish species. While not all jellyfish, or 'stinger' species are harmful, it is always best to exercise caution around these fascinating creatures.
It is good to know that ‘stinger season’ generally runs during the warmer months of the year, and in the Whitsundays this is from October to May during our summer season. That being said, jellyfish can be present year round. Northerlies and king tides can also bring them year round. Jellyfish have limited propulsion abilities, and generally float along with ocean currents. Ask your crew if you are concerned and they should be able to tell you what tidal conditions to look out for.
Types of Jellyfish in the Whitsundays
Jellyfish are an important part of the ecosystem, and even provide food for animals such as sea turtles. There can be blooms of harmless, and even beautiful jellyfish depending on the time of year, such as moon jellies, crystal jellies, and blue buttons. There are a few jellyfish that can be harmful however, and you should keep plenty of distance from, which are box jellyfish, Irukandji and blue bottles. Box jellyfish are easy to spot, as they have a large cubed bell and long tentacles that can reach up to 3m. Irukandji are harder to spot, as they are translucent and roughly the size of your fingernail. Blue bottles are also easy to spot, having a dark blue colour and a bottle shaped bell.
Being stung by a jellyfish is a very rare occurrence however it is best to always take preventative measures and be prepared. When we are in their environment, it's important to remain cautious and keep an eye out when entering the water.
Blue bottles, or Portuguese man o' war, the Irukandji and box jellyfish can cause severe reactions in people. Reactions can range from serious stings to cardiac arrest, so it's important to treat stings properly to ensure further damage. Remember, though many species of jellyfish are harmless, we must be very aware that the Irukandji, box jellyfish and other more dangerous species are found in the Whitsundays. Treatment can range from species to species, for example, dowsing with vinegar is recommended for most jellyfish stings, while this is not recommended for blue bottles. Instead, immersing the sting in hot water is the best option to stop the sting. If you are unsure, you can always check with your crew.
If you are heading out on a day or overnight trip, your safety is the crew’s priority, and they will issue a stinger suit (wetsuit) to each guest, at little or no cost, to minimise any risk of being stung. It is important to wear your wetsuit during any water-based activities, including swimming, snorkelling or scuba diving.
Your stinger suit, or wet suit, that will minimize your risk of being stung. Covering you from your neck to your ankles, you decrease your chances of being stung by 75%. Pregnant women, elderly and children are more susceptible to the harmful effects of a jellyfish sting, so they may opt to cover up further with a head cap, gloves and reef shoes. During the winter months, it may be wise to still wear a rash shirt, as the most important area you want to protect is your chest where your vital organs are. While species such as the box jellyfish can be lethal, quick and correct treatment can prevent any serious long term damage.
If you are taking a dip on your own accord in the swimming enclosures off Airlie Beach, a stinger suit is certainly recommended as smaller types of jellyfish can enter and get trapped in enclosures. Suits can be hired or bought at several shops, including the dive shop at Abell Point Marina. If you are swimming offshore on an unpatrolled beach, you may want to see if they have a stinger station around, which will usually have warning signs and a bottle of vinegar in case of emergencies. Never touch a jellyfish that has washed up on the shore, as their stingers can still have active venom.
Queensland Government issued procedure if yourself or someone is stung:
- Call for medical help (ring 000) (or if you are on a tour, alert your qualified crew members).
- Assess the patient and perform CPR if necessary.
- Remove any remaining tentacles carefully, preferably with a glove.
- Douse the sting site with vinegar as soon as possible. Vinegar inactivates the stinging cells, preventing them from injecting more venom.
- Reassure the patient and keep calm until medical help arrives.
- Wait at least 45 minutes before re-entering the water as symptoms of Irukandji syndrome can take a while to develop.
- If in doubt, treat as Irukandji.
Where They Are Present
High-risk conditions include calm water, especially in sheltered bays, sandy beaches in low wave action, river-mouths, and of course a heightened water temperature. However, stings can still occur in open water and out of season, so a stinger suit is always a good idea! They also have the added bonus of protecting you from the sun without having to apply sun lotion.
Stinger season doesn't mean you can't enjoy yourself in the water. It just means you have to be more careful and be aware that you are entering a foreign environment; this is where they live, and we are only visitors! Hundreds of thousands of people enter the water every year and there are very few recorded incidents with stingers. Use reasonable caution to minimize your risk, and rest assured that stings are actually incredibly rare, and your chances of encountering one are incredibly slim.
If you have any concerns you can speak to the crew on your tour and they will assist with prevention advice and local knowledge of the area and time of year. Hopefully, you can rest assured that you are in for an incredible holiday armed with more knowledge of these incredible (and rare) creatures.
For more information to plan your perfect Whitsundays holiday, chat to our friendly and knowledgable team today