The Portuguese man of war is native to the Atlantic Ocean. They can occasionally be found in the waters off the southern coastline of the United States. The warm waters of summer, changing tides, and ocean winds bring the man-of-war closer to shore in summer. And the dangerous creatures do sometimes wash up on the beach. Emerald Isle, while being one of the southernmost North Carolina coastal communities, does not see very many man-of-wars each season. Man-of-wars are more common from South Carolina to Florida and a common nuisance in the Gulf of Mexico. Emerald Isle is just out of the normal range for man-of-wars to be a serious, ongoing concern.
However, with the possibility of encountering both jellyfish and man-of-wars in Emerald Isle, it is best to have a good base of knowledge about these odd sea creatures. While jellyfish can move purposefully through the water, man-of-wars are reliant on the tides and winds for propulsion. Therefore, warm, windy years with aggressive currents may produce a more significant presence of man-of-wars on Emerald Isle or other local beaches. In fact, you may want to be aware of portuguese man of war anywhere in coastal North Carolina.
What to do if you see a Man of War
If you encounter a man-of-war or a jellyfish on Emerald Isle, do not approach it. You will recognize the man-of-war by a distinctive sail which is quite pronounced, often blue in color, and resembles the comb on a chicken. Interlocking, segmented tentacle are also characteristic of the man-of-war. If you suspect that you have found a man-of-war, do contact the Emerald Isle Fire Department and Lifeguard staff. They actively monitor sea life off the coast and post warnings when the water is unsafe. A purple flag at the public access points for Emerald Isle beaches signals an abundance of dangerous aquatic life.
If you are stung by a jellyfish, run white vinegar over the sting and do not rub or rinse. Man-of-war stings are treated similarly but due to their severity, if you are stung, it is advisable that you seek medical attention. The most convenient urgent care center to Emerald Isle is just two miles from the center of town, at the Swansboro Medical Center but the Emerald Isle Fire department also has EMTs on staff in an emergency.
Don’t let a fear of jellyfish or man-of-wars keep from the beach this summer. Severe stings are rare in Emerald Isle and awareness is your best protection from harm. Enjoy the water and expect to coexist peacefully with the surrounding, mostly non-venomous marine life.