Point Lance dealing with Portuguese man-of-war swarm

·3 min read
This Portuguese man-of-war is one of many that have washed up on the beach in Point Lance this week. (Submitted by Chantel Nash - image credit)
This Portuguese man-of-war is one of many that have washed up on the beach in Point Lance this week. (Submitted by Chantel Nash - image credit)

Between the dead birds and sometimes-deadly sea creatures, it's been a strange summer at the beach in Point Lance.

The mile-stretch of sandy beach is a hidden gem on Newfoundland's southern Avalon Peninsula, loved by locals and often enjoyed by tourists on their way to the nearby Cape St. Mary's seabird reserve. But the beach has seen some foreboding signs this summer.

When Chantel Nash went for a walk along the shoreline earlier this week, she found about 10 dead birds — mostly gannets, suspected to be infected with the bird flu that's swept the province this summer. But it was the brightly coloured, squishy creatures that she was trying her hardest to avoid.

"I didn't count, but I would say near 40 dead Portuguese man-of-wars," she said. "We've had a lot."

The jellyfish-like creatures have created quite a stir on the southern Avalon in recent weeks. The Portuguese man-of-war can be up to a foot long, and delivers a powerful sting that on rare occasions has killed people. People in Point Lance say they've never seen them before.

Despite their appearance, they are not technically jellyfish, and they are carnivorous. Their venomous tentacles are used to paralyze prey and suck in small fish, plankton and crustaceans.

Terry Roberts/CBC
Terry Roberts/CBC

When they turn their tentacles on humans, it leaves large red welts and can cause severe pain. Stings can become serious if a person has an allergy, said Paul Snelgrove, a professor of ocean science and biology at Memorial University.

Snelgrove said it's not unheard of for the creatures to wash up in Newfoundland, but the number of them this summer has been unusual. He said a combination of ocean currents and warmer temperatures is likely the reason for their arrival.

"[The Gulf Stream] often transports these migrants, if you will, into our waters where they end up dying and washing up on our beach," he said. "It also is unusually warm. We've all enjoyed this summer, and water temperatures also reflect the warmth we've seen in the air temperatures so all of those factors really come into play."

Nash said locals don't really know what to do with the men-of-war, and have been relying on the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to come and remove them or bury them.

Ted Dillon/CBC
Ted Dillon/CBC

She said people haven't been swimming in the water, and some are hesitant to walk along the beach.

"A lot of kids in the area swim in the two freshwater rivers that run into the ocean there. On high tide, the ocean goes up into the river, so we haven't anyone swimming all summer, really," she said. "In the beginning they were afraid of the avian bird flu, and now they're afraid of the jellyfish."

Snelgrove said the situation is best treated with caution, even if the creatures are dead when they wash up.

"They do continue to be able to sting after the animal is dead. They do eventually become dormant, but initially they are still a threat. So I would say don't stay away from the beach, but stay away from the animals."

As the summer draws to a close, Nash said it's been one that locals won't soon forget in Point Lance.

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