CLEARWATER — Did you see them? Those translucent, dinner-plate-sized blobs with a four-leaf-clover shape — their gonads, actually — in the middle? Maybe one bobbed near you in the surf, or nearly got crushed beneath your flip-flop in the wet sand?
Moon jellyfish are also known as common jellyfish, familiar to beach-goers though they may still seem pretty alien if you’re a land-bound human from the north.
Earlier this week, their ranks apparently washed up in higher-than-usual numbers on some Pinellas County beaches; maybe you saw one, beached and looking a little sad, pop up on your Facebook feed.
About 20 people at Clearwater Beach got a lot closer than that. They reported being stung by jellyfish, starting over the weekend and through early this week, said water safety supervisor Konrad Ciolko. He suspects the movement of Hurricane Delta through the Gulf of Mexico — it struck Louisiana on Oct. 9 — caused the preponderance of jellies.
“They’re free swimmers," he said. "They kind of travel with the currents, with the Gulf, with the winds.”
Teresa Greely, a biological oceanographer at the University of South Florida, said Ciolko is probably right that the storm pushed the jellies toward the beaches. She went up the coast from Fort De Soto Park to John’s Pass on Thursday, though, and didn’t see any still hanging around.
“I’d say it’s passed, for the most part,” she said.
Moon jellies sting, but it’s unlikely anyone who had a run-in with one this week felt the pain for long. The stings won’t penetrate the skin, Ciolko said, and the pain usually goes away within 15 minutes. On Clearwater Beach, lifeguards are equipped with vinegar, which can neutralize the stinging cells that release venom.
If there’s no lifeguard nearby, you can remove any lingering tentacles yourself — with an object other than your hand — before dousing the relevant body part with vinegar (for those who take their own vinegar to the beach) and scraping the stinging cells off with something flat.
Beached ones can still sting, Ciolko noted, so leave them alone; the tide will reclaim them eventually.
On Thursday, he said, the uptick appeared to be pretty much over. The lifeguards hadn’t seen any jellies since Tuesday. Not that it was ever much of an invasion — as Ciolko noted, the water is jellyfish territory.
“It’s their environment out there," he said, "and we’re just guests in it.”