As locals in a resort area, we are pretty accustomed to visitors flocking to our beaches to enjoy all that summer has to offer. What we aren’t quite as familiar with is the influx of sea life so far this year. Before we go any further, let’s preface this entire article with the glaring and obvious fact that the ocean is indeed the ocean and yes, ocean life is in fact living in the ocean. It goes without saying that sharks, man-o-war, and other curious creatures call the Atlantic Ocean home, and no we are not surprised to discover this fact. Nonetheless, when a hammerhead shark finds its way onto the beach in Ocean City, or when millions of salps are seen covering the Assateague shoreline, our interests are piqued.
We’ll start with the most recent sighting, the Portuguese man-of-war. Earlier this week, Delaware State Park officials warned swimmers to use caution on the beaches from Cape Henlopen to Fenwick Island due to several Portuguese man-of-war sightings along the local beaches over the weekend. It seems the trend has continued in Ocean City as well, with at least one sighting on North Division Street on Tuesday morning by a local lifeguard. So, what exactly is a Portuguese man-of-war? For starters, the sea creatures are quite beautiful with their ethereal purple and blue hues. Not to be confused with a jelly fish, the Portuguese man-of-war is a siphonophore, which is an animal made up of a colony of organisms working together. While you may be tempted to reach out and touch the tentacles and polyps (the uppermost polyp sits above water, resembling an old warship…hence the name) these venomous invertebrates will leave you in a world of pain. According to National Geographic, the tentacles can reach up to 165 feet in length (although the average is 30 feet) and are covered with venom-filled nematocysts that – while not deadly to humans – are excruciatingly painful. To make a long story short, if you see these guys in the ocean or on the beach, steer clear! Scroll through the image results of a ‘Portuguese Man-of-War sting’ Google search if you’re not convinced…ouch. If stung, rinse the area with seawater and apply a thin layer of hydrocortisone cream to the wound until it is healed. See a doctor if you see any signs of infection or allergic reaction.
Now before the usual social media frenzy kicks in, Portuguese men-of-war are fairly common to our offshore waters. Their recent appearance could be explained by the tides, the winds, or the warmer waters. Until there are hundreds washing up on our shores, let’s keep the panic at bay.
Speaking of hundreds…the beaches of Assateague were overrun over the weekend with tiny creatures resembling miniature jelly fish. Millions of the tiny jelly-like creatures could be seen washed up on the shore, with even more brushing up against you in the water. A little researching has revealed that these little guys are actually salps, or tiny, transparent jet-propelled tubes. Entirely innocuous, salps do not sting or hunt. While they may look like tiny jelly fish (or aliens) the clear creatures are more akin to fish and are by no means dangerous. Fun fact: salps often float together in colonies, moving along in a perfect rhythm and aggregating in groups as large as a bus!
Now, the news of the hammerhead shark sightings in Bethany Beach and Ocean City isn’t exactly new or noteworthy at this point, but hey, it is Shark Week after all! The social media frenzy over the hammerhead sighting was excessive and at times annoying considering sharks live in the ocean and have more right to be there than us land dwellers. Nonetheless, it was a bit disconcerting to see one making her way through the bay in Ocean City. So in honor or our new hammerhead friend and in honor of Shark Week 2015, we’re sharing our Top 5 Favorite Shark Facts (courtesy of Discovery.com):
1. Sharks have the ability to regurgitate their stomachs and swallow it once again.
2. Volusia County, Florida has had more shark attacks than anywhere else in the world, with 210 attacks since 1882.
3. Frilled sharks have 300 razor sharp teeth laid out in 25 rows.
4. A Florida fisherman found a shark baby with two heads. This unusual mutation happens when an embryo does not split fully into twins.
5. The foot of a duck-billed dinosaur was found with a shark tooth inside it, proving that sharks once scavenged or even hunted dinosaurs.
As always, we encourage you to exercise caution and respect for any living creature you stumble upon along our local beaches. Just as you don’t appreciate being accosted during a relaxing beach day, neither do the sea life that share our shores.
Now if we could only secure a mermaid sighting…