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Thursday, July 31, 2014

Randi Kreiss
Five Towns woman faces tiniest killer in the world

So, I have a slight Indiana Jones compulsion. I first heard about “stingers” two weeks ago, when we cruised the Torres Straits, off Australia. We were visiting Thursday Island, very remote and exotic but posh, a world away from the primitive places we visited in Indonesia.

We took a tender to Thursday Island from our ship, but were warned not to swim off the beach because of “stingers” in the water. Mother Nature has a sense of humor. She creates the most gorgeous beaches on Earth, floats them in an azure sea that is warm and gentle, and then infests them with toxic creatures that make swimming impossible between November and March — summertime Down Under.

We were told that when we arrived in Cairns, we would have to wear “stinger” suits if we wanted to snorkel or even swim out on the Great Barrier Reef. No one even mentioned the great whites that cruise these waters. Barracuda? No problem. All anyone talked about was the dreaded box jellyfish.

I remembered seeing a documentary on this invertebrate. It’s tiny, maybe a quarter-inch, but it has yards-long tentacles that contain thousands of stingers, which pump a deadly neurotoxin into a victim in seconds. In the film I saw, a husband-and-wife team of clearly insane marine biologists wanted to capture and test some of the jellyfish. They went to a beach in Australia where the waters were full of the creatures, put on stinger suits, gloves, booties, face masks and diving hats and jumped off their outboard. Within a minute, the husband was stung in a tiny exposed area between the top of his glove and the sleeve of his stinger suit. They hauled him out of the water and rushed him to a helipad, where he was flown to a hospital.

There he writhed in agony for weeks as the cameras rolled. This is a very scary jellyfish. Its sting is most often fatal. Apparently, you die of shock from the pain. This was getting my full attention.

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