Here’s how to keep yourself safe during box jellyfish season

Box jellyfish

The sea can be a fun place to while away the summer, but there’s some creatures you’ll need to avoid. Source: Shutterstock

BOX JELLYFISH, scientifically named Cubozoa, are the most dangerous of all the jellyfish species and one of the most venomous creatures known to humans.

October through May marks jellyfish season in the tropical waters which surround much of Southeast Asia and Australasia, so it’s important you stay safe in the ocean.

The invertebrate box jellyfish got their name from their cube-shaped structure that carries their deadly tentacles.

Most species of box jellyfish are transparent and if you add this to their fast swimming ability, you’ve got yourself a deadly creature of nightmares.

Also, due to their complex brain-like nervous system and their 24 eyes, box jellyfish can maneuver around obstacles, differentiate between light and dark colors, and lock onto a target.

Box jellyfish have 24 eyes clustered into groups of six around their heads. Source: Shutterstock.

Unlike other jellyfish, box jellyfish don’t wait in the current for their prey to stumble across them. They hunt and sting their dinner, which usually consists of small fish and shrimp.

Only sea turtles seem to be immune to the box jellyfish’s sting and regularly eat them.

On the upside, only some species of the box jellyfish pose a risk to humans.

The only box jellyfish linked to fatalities in swimmers and beachgoers are Carukia barnesi, Malo kingi, and Chironex fleckeri. But they don’t wear identification tags, so don’t risk going near any, unless you’re a jellyfish expert.

Box jellyfish

A box jellyfish and its mates lurking in the deep warm water. Source: Shutterstock

The Chironex fleckeri is the worst of the bunch. This species is found in the waters around the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, New Guinea, and Australia.

Also known as the Sea Wasp, they are only the size of a basketball, but their dozens of ribbonlike tentacles can stretch for up to six feet and kill you quicker than you can reach the shore.

Equally as dangerous is the thimble-sized Carukia barnesi which pack such a venomous punch, their victims have been known to beg their doctors to kill them in order to escape the excruciating and debilitating symptoms.


A swarm of jellyfish swimming close to the surface of the water. Source: Shutterstock

Although most ocean goers fear sharks, figures prove that jellyfish rack up far more fatalities per year than the ominous dorsal-finned mammal.

According to the US National Science Foundation, around 20 to 40 people die every year in the Philippines from box jellyfish stings.

In Thailand, only seven fatalities caused by box jellyfish stings have been reported since 1999. However, nearly all these incidences occurred in popular traveling destinations such as Koh Samui and Koh Phangan.

It’s imperative you listen and adhere to the rules issued by the beach authorities to avoid being stung.

Depending on where you’re swimming, these rules could include:

  • Wearing a wetsuit or stinger suit in the sea during the wet season (October to March).
  • Only swimming inside designated enclosures.
  • Do not ignore the local warnings or signposts.
  • Try to swim in warmer months, mainly summer. However, keep in mind that the summer season differs for each nation.
  • If a beach has stinger nets which keep out jellyfish, swim within them and never sit on the edge.
  • Never touch a washed-up jellyfish even if you think it’s safe.
  • Always take vinegar to the beach with you because it’s the best possible course of action immediately after the sting.
  • Try to move slowly into the water because marine stingers swim away as you go in.
  • Avoid swimming at night time.

Many beaches in Australia have jellyfish warning signs. Source: Shutterstock

If you follow these safety tips but still think you may have fallen prey to a pesky tentacle or two, then these are the signs and symptoms to watch out for.

  • Severe pain with a sensation of burning and prickling where you think you’ve been stung.
  • Skin swelling.
  • Visible tentacle tracks on the body that are brown, red, or purple.
  • Severe itching.
  • A feeling of numbness and tingling.
  • Difficulty breathing, swallowing and speaking.
  • Shivering and sweating with a high fever.
  • Severe pain which spreads and throbs through the body.
  • Irregular pulse and heart beating dangerously fast.

If there is no question you or someone else around you has been stung, you need to follow these steps:

  • Call an ambulance.
  • While you’re waiting for it to come, get yourself or the victim out of the water as quickly as possible.
  • Do not wash the suspected sting with water. Instead, use vinegar to clean the area and shower the sting in warm water to lessen the pain.
  • Try to pluck out any visible stings with a gloved hand or pair of tweezers.

One last thing: Make sure you have proper travel insurance becuase if you’re an unlucky victim of a box jellyfish sting, you’d be hospitalized and most probably need major skin operations.