Portugese Man-O-War

After returning from Europe Tuesday night, I went surfing at Lower Kanaha on Wednesday morning and one of these combative little fuckers lit me up pretty good.

I actually never saw the creature. Probably what stung me was a detatched tentacle. It was so thin I couldn’t see it; it wrapped around my wristwatch and stung the sh!t out of my forearm until I was able to grab it with my other hand (by feel) and toss it away. The whole incident consumed less than 2 seconds.

I have been stung by Man-O-War about a half-dozen times (on several occasions much worse than this), so for those of you who dive, surf, swim in the ocean, kiteboard, and so forth, I thought I’d expound a bit on what to do should you find yourself a victim.

My right forearm, 5 days after the fact.

Unless you’re one of those unfortunate people so allergic to bites you must carry an anaphylactic pen, Man-O-War stings are not that big a deal. They “smart”. They won’t kill you, they won’t even put you out of commission for a day. Depending on the size of the creature and the severity of the stings, a Man O War attack feels like somewhere between 4 and 15 bee stings.

When you’re being stung, it feels like the aforementioned bee stings, or, if you’ve ever been dumb enough to do it, like sticking your tongue between the poles of a 9v battery.

As soon as you feel yourself being stung, find the tentacles and get them off. Otherwise the damn thing will sting you for an hour.

Once the stinging stops, it’s decision time. If the injury feels like a half-doze bee stings or less, there’s no reason to paddle in or get back in the boat. The cool ocean water will salve the stings and after 10 minutes, it will stop hurting. If the stings are worse, then get out of the water and go lie down for a while.

What happens when you get stung badly is the toxins congregate in your lymph nodes, and in about 3-6 minutes you will start to get a dull ache in your groin, your neck, and perhaps your armpits. Best to be lying down sipping a cold drink when this happens, not out in the ocean swimming around. It’s not a terrible pain, but a dull ache – like being smacked in the Family Jewels by a soccer ball. Not nearly as bad as being kicked in the groin or punched in the throat.

Even if the stings are bad, it will all stop hurting in about a half hour. Then the fun starts.

Applying ammonia or vinegar to your stings will, well, take out the sting. In Hawai’i, any lifeguard will probably have a spray bottle of ammonia. If you can’t find a lifeguard, then pee on the stings. I am not making this up. It works. If you haven’t had anything to drink for a few hours, get a friend to pee on you (it helps the sting and it’s a great conversation starter). Walk up to any local in a beachside parking lot in Hawaii (HINT: a local will be driving a banged-up pickup truck, not a freshly-washed Mustang convertible) and ask him / her to pee on you. Odds are they are a surfer, a windsurfer, a kiteboarder, a sponger, or a SUP-er, and they will promptly oblige.

I learned this trick from my friend Keith, the Shop Manager at Simmer Hawaii. One day many years ago we were out surfing, and when I paddled in I found him in the parking lot, peeing on his wife. An interesting conversation ensued. 15 years later, they are still happily married, they have 4 kids, and they both still surf.

The real problems start the next day. Those of you who live in Florida will know exactly what I’m talking about when I say that after about a day, Man-O-War stings turn into fire ant bites. The area itches so bad you will have an irresistible urge to fillet the skin right off the stung area with a combat knife.

This, also, is easily dealt with. Use aloe. Aloe grows wild all over Hawaii. I have dozens of aloe plants in my front yard. Like these….


And these…..
Grab a stalk of fresh aloe, peel back the skin to expose the clear, viscous balm within, and rub liberally into the stung skin.

The itch will vanish for about 4 hours.

If you’re not lucky enough to have aloe (pronounced AH-low by us haoles and ah-LOW-ay by the locals) growing all over your front yard, and can’t find any growing wild in the parking lot of your condo / hotel, then buy a bottle of this stuff, it works just as well as the fresh stuff, if not better:

Expect the bites to itch like hell, and look unsightly, for about 5 days.

Years ago I was out windsurfing one day at Ku’au and I got stung REALLY bad. I had tentacles around my neck, across my face, on my forehead. It stung like hell. I sailed in and laid down on the rocks until the nausea and pain in my lymph nodes went away. Then I sailed out and rode more waves. The next morning, when I woke up, the pain was gone and I actually forgot I’d been stung until I stepped in front of the mirror to brush my teeth. I looked up and actually screamed. I looked like the guy in Aliens with the vampire squid attached to his face. I had huge nasty angry-looking red welts spidered across my face, neck, and forehead. It was really gross. My girlfriend at the time was flying in that night from Florida, I had to call her and warn her not to be scared when she saw me with a vampire squid on my face at Kahului Airport.

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About The Mighty Skunk

I'm a Boffin
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