I was taking my morning exercise walk down the beach last week and saw a Portuguese Man-of-War on the sand and surely my mind went through several stories about these dreaded, dangerous and venomous animals.
I had not seen an “Aguamala” (man-of-war) in several years because I did not go to the beach very often. Now I go daily. This one is especially for my new-found friend Alberto from Punta Gorda who cleans the beach at Banyan Bay. Watch out amigo!
A man of war looks like a balloon floating on the sea with long string-like tentacles. It is pink, blue and violet- a beautiful and unique looking animal.
The Man-of-War uses its tentacles to entrap small fish and it paralyzes them with a poison in its tentacles and can eat them by digesting them with its polyps. The Man-of-war or “aguamala” appears in our area during April and May of each year. That is about the same time the sea turtles (loggerheads) come to shore to mate.
Turtles feed on the aguamalas and they must be their only predator. I have seen several aguamalas in the stomach of a turtle when we killed the turtle to process its meat.
Some days when we were swimming in the sea during May, we would not notice them and swim right into the “beast”. The tentacles immediately start penetrating your skin and I can testify that it hurts tremendously. It is sort of a stinging/burning sensation, a very powerful and painful sting, and it lasts for quite some time. Some children even developed a fever after being stung by a Man-of-war.
I remember once when the boys and girls used to come to San Pedro during the Easter vacations. One innocent kid saw this beautiful aguamala floating towards him and he could not resist its beauty and went and hugged it. We did not have time to warn him when we heard his loud screaming and we knew what he was going through, but no consolation can help once you have been stung.
The immediate first aid is to urinate on the affected area. I guess the warmth helps, and usually there were many volunteers to help the poor victim. When you can take the victim home, you can apply hot patches or better yet, cover the area with condensed milk.
Despite its horrendous reputation, we used to play a game with aguamalas in the sea. We would make a circle around the Man-of-War and tried pushing it towards our opponents by creating sea currents with our arms. There were no winners, but surely there were losers. What fun we had with the beautiful, elegant yet horrible aguamalas twenty five years ago.
Watch out! They are around here and have come hundreds or thousands of miles from as far as Northern Atlantic Gulf Stream or Hawaii. They are beautiful but treacherous. You’ll find them dying in the sea weed on the beach and are still dangerous.
– by Angel Nuñez, Columnist