If most people where asked to name the deadliest creature in the ocean, they’d probably say that it was the shark. Indeed, according to the University of Florida’s International Shark Attack File, there have been 464 recorded deaths from unprovoked shark attack dating from the year 1580 through July of 2009. That’s a little over one per year. Yet, there is another far more deadly creature swimming in the seas, the jellyfish.
Jellyfish kill 15-30 times more people than sharks
If the 2-4 deaths from Jellyfish stings reported in Malaysia were all there were, the jellyfish would still be three times as deadly as the shark. When we add an estimated 20-40 box jellyfish sting deaths from the Philippines according to a report in The Medical Journal of Australia (Fenner, & Williams, 1996), the jellyfish becomes responsible for anywhere from 15-30 times more deaths each year than all unprovoked shark attacks worldwide.
Attack of the zombie jellyfish
Some species of stinging jellyfish are almost invisible in the water and the first warning anyone may get is large numbers of people leaving the water with painful, itching stings. Even after it is dead, the jellyfish can still continue stinging. The stingers activate upon touch and work whether the tentacle is still attached to a living jellyfish or not.
First aid for jellyfish stings
Despite this, very few jellyfish stings are fatal. Each year tens of thousands of people are stung by jellyfish with symptoms ranging from a minor itch to severe pain. Most do not even seek medical treatment. Traditional remedies involve applying some acid solution to the site of the sting to neutralize the pain-causing toxins. Household vinegar is recommended by Fenner and Williams.
Jellyfish populations increasing
Jellyfish are among the oldest of modern sea creatures dating back to 500 million years ago, compared to fish which can be dated back only 370 million years according to the Smithsonian. Yet the ancient jellyfish is doing well, in today’s oceans. Remarkably well, says the Smithsonian. In some areas they are proliferating so rapidly that they clog water intake pipes and disable power plants. They have been known to wipe out salmon farms and even sink a ten ton fishing boat that tried to haul in its nets which were filled with a species of jellyfish weighing 450 pounds each.
Although few of the estimated 1500 species of jellyfish in the oceans have a deadly sting, if the trend of increasing numbers of jellyfish worldwide continues, the number of annual human fatalities resulting from jellyfish stings may be on the rise as well.
International Shark Attack File. July 7, 2009. Florida Museum of Natural History, University of Florida. Retrieved from http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/fish/sharks/statistics/GAttack/World.htm on July 22, 2010.
Fenner, Peter J. and Williams, John A. Worldwide deaths and severe envenomations from jellyfish stings. 1996. The Australian Medical Journal. Retrieved from http://www.mja.com.au/public/issues/dec2/fenner/fenner.html#suba0 on July 22, 2010.
Tucker, Abigail. The New King of the Sea. July/ August, 2010. Smithsonian magazine.
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