Portuguese man-of-war: what are they?

People across the area have been spotting the venomous Portuguese man-of-war washed up on our beaches. But what are they, and what should you do if stung?

Monday, 16th October 2017, 10:14 am
Updated Friday, 8th June 2018, 5:15 am
Annette Wassell took this picture of a Portuguese man-of-war at East Worthing beach on Saturday
Annette Wassell took this picture of a Portuguese man-of-war at East Worthing beach on Saturday

First, let’s be picky: the Portuguese man-of-war isn’t a jellyfish. It’s actually a siphonophore – rather than being one creature, they are colonial organisms made up of many small, individual animals.

Over the past few days, they have been spotted on beaches in Worthing and Shoreham, and near Chichester. While rare, sightings of the Portuguese man-of-war on our beaches do happen, but normally not this late in the year.

Local councils have advised anyone spotting a Portuguese man-of-war to report it but leave well alone, as the creatures have a nasty sting which can cause intense pain for up to 20 minutes.

The NHS advises that most Portuguese man-of-war stings can be treated in a similar way to jellyfish stings. Painkillers such as paracetamol and ibuprofen can be used to treat pain and inflamation, but medical help should be sought immediately by anyone experiencing severe, lasting pain or if the affected area becomes infected.

The NHS also scotches one popular rumour about treating such stings: “Ignore any advice you’ve heard about urinating on the sting – it’s unlikely to help.” Read more about the NHS’s advice for stings by jellyfish and Portuguese man-of-war by clicking here.

The first sighting on local beaches came on Thursday, when eight Portuguese man-of-war washed up on the beach at Bracklesham Bay, near Chichester. On Friday, a dog walker, Angela Hawke, spotted one at Kingston Gorse beach, between Worthing and Littlehampton. She said: “I alerted the council and they are informing the beach officers. Fortunately, my dog is fine.” Three were also seen at Shoreham Beach, and Annette Wassell saw one washed up at East Worthing.

After the sighting at Bracklesham Bay, a Chichester District Council spokesman said: “The main bathing season is over, but we would urge surfers and people who still swim in the sea at this time of the year to be extra careful when in the water. This type of jellyfish can cause a reaction which in extremely rare cases can be fatal.”

And the Coastguard at Littlehampton had further advice: “If you see any jellyfish, but in particular these ones, don’t touch them. “Even though they are out of the water they can still leave a very nasty sting so stay away and keep if you have a dog it may be best to keep them on a lead.”