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Jellyfish in Gulf Shores

Jellyfish, Rip Currents & Such

Rip Currents | New 5 Flag System | Jellyfish | StingrayTips

Rip Currents

A red flag means NO SWIMMING -- There is Dangerous Surf or Rip Currents!

What is a rip current?   A strong current or stream of water that knocks you off balance and carries you AWAY from the shore.

What does one do if caught in a rip current?  Stay Calm and DO NOT fight the current. Even strong swimmers cannot swim against these currents. Escape the current by swimming in a direction parallel to the shore line...when you are free of the current, swim AT AN ANGLE to the shore. If you are not able to escape float or tread water until the current weakens then swim at an angle to the shore.

***If at any time you feel you will not be able to reach the shore, immediately face the shore, wave your arms and cry for help. 

DO NOT SWIM in the shallow pass between Little Lagoon and the Gulf on West Beach.

The beauty of Alabama's Gulf Coast, attracts thousands every year, but that beauty can disguise danger.

In May 2008, former City of Gulf Shores employee Joe Ronan drowned while fishing at Little Lagoon / Gulf Pass on West Beach. Ronan was a dedicated husband and father, very active in youth league sports and a long time resident of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach.

Where Little Lagoon and the Gulf of Mexico meet, is the perfect example of trouble. It has claimed three lives in the last eighteen months according to Fire Marshal Keith Martin.

Ronan was fishing on the east side of the pass and one person described it as he was walking along the edge, possibly to get a better position for fishing, and the sand gave way, out from under him and he fell into the current and the current pulled him out into the Gulf. Little Lagoon Pass is as popular with tourists as it is with fishermen.

The current is so strong, there's no way to fight it. You can have 15 to 20 miles per hour current, and in water this shallow, you can't stand up, you can try but it will just knock you down.

Crab and fish from the banks but do not go into the water there.

New 5 Flag Warning System

Color Meaning
Green Green Flag- Conditions are Calm Conditions are Calm
Yellow Yellow Flag- Conditions are moderate - use caution There is moderate surf and/or currents
Red Red Flag- Conditions are dangerous - NO SWIMMING High surf and/or strong currents - No Swimming
Double red

Double Red Flag- Conditions are so dangerous the water is closed to the public

The surf and currents are so rough that the water is closed to the public
Purple Purple Flag- Dangerous marine life such as sharks, jellyfish, Portuguese Man-of-War, skates, etc are present Dangerous marine life present (sharks, jellyfish, Portuguese man-of-war, skates, etc)

If you are on a beach that only uses 3 flags:



Green Green Flag- Conditions are Calm Conditions are calm
Yellow Yellow Flag- Conditions are moderate - use caution Use caution. Conditions are moderate.
Red Red Flag- Conditions are dangerous - NO SWIMMING NO SWIMMING ! Conditions are dangerous

Please Note: Gulf Shores made it ILLEGAL to swim off public beaches when a red flag is flying !

Also: If there are no flags present, it DOES NOT mean that the waters are safe !


Jellyfish & Portuguese Man-of-War

Safe Sea LotionNew protective lotion that you can wear to avoid jellyfish stings--Safe Sea protects against the stings of jellyfish, sea lice, sea nettle, fire coral, and more. It has several combined mechanisms to prevent jelly fish stings. Safe Sea comes in a sun screen version and regular.

If you do get stung, have Jellyfish Squish on hand !


According to "Dr. Skip", Henry Lazauski our Marine Biologist:

There is not any way to predict the abundance of jellyfish that I know about. In very general terms:

1) If the gulf loop current is farther north than usual;

2) the gulf water temperature is higher earlier in the year, and;

3) the onshore wind is above average.

There will tend to be more jellyfish closer to shore in the months of late June through August.

We have seen significantly increased numbers of two common local species, such as moon jellies and sea nettles (Aurelia aurita and Chrysaora quinquecirrha), in the past couple of years. We then saw the arrival of two uncommon tropical species in summer and fall of 2000: the so-called Australian spotted jellyfish (Phyllorhiza punctata) and “the big pink jellyfish” (Drymonema dalmatinum).

The nearby Dauphin Island Sea Lab has made a wonderful jellyfish identification chart.

* Carefully remove any remaining tentacles to avoid additional stings. DO NOT use bare hands.
* Immediately rinse area with saltwater. Fresh water will make the situation worse by causing the stinging cells that have not discharged yet do so.
* Adolph's Meat Tenderizer is a common remedy. A paste can be made by mixing the meat tenderizer with saltwater.  Another possible remedy is vinegar but vinegar is not recommended for Portuguese Man o' War stings.
* If you have any difficulty swallowing or breathing call 911 immediately.

Portuguese Man-of-War

Portuguese Man-of-War

Although commonly called a jellyfish, the Portuguese Man-of-War is actually a colony of 4 different types of polyps with specialized functions. It is said the Man-of-War got its name a long time ago when ancient sailors thought it resembled a Portuguese war ship. I have also heard that it got its name because it resembled the Portuguese soldier's helmet. The Man-of-War is usually a blue inflated body with a pink crest and the tentacles are a combination of blue, pink and purple. As beautiful as it is, it should never be touched ! A dead and dried up Man-of-War is still poisonous and capable of stinging. The tentacles can be extremely long, so even if you are not close to the floating "helmet" body you could bump into one of its highly venomous tentacles.

The man-of-war stings are very painful. Symptoms include severe shooting pain described as a shock-like sensation, and intense joint and muscle pain. Pain may be accompanied by headaches, shock, collapse, faintness, hysteria, chills, fever, nausea and vomiting and in some cases death (usually from cardiac arrest). While the initial contact may result in only a small number of stings, efforts to escape from the tentacles may cause the stinging cells that have not discharged to do so and intensify the stings. Care should be taken when removing the adhering tentacles. Severe stings can still occur even when the animal is beached or dead. The Man-of-War sting may require further medical treatment to control the pain. If any breathing difficulty occurs, CALL 911 immediately.

Jellyfish Blooms:

Monty Graham, of the Dauphin Island Sea Lab in Alabama, says that "ecosystems in which there are high levels of nutrients ... provide nourishment for the small organisms on which jellyfish feed. In waters where there is eutrophication, low oxygen levels often result, favoring jellyfish as they thrive in less oxygen-rich water than fish can tolerate. The fact that jellyfish are increasing is a symptom of something happening in the ecosystem." Areas which have been seriously affected by jellyfish blooms include the northern Gulf of Mexico. In that case, Graham states, "Moon jellies have formed a kind of gelatinous net that stretches from end to end across the gulf."

Their presence in the ocean is usually seasonal, responding to the availability of prey, which is seasonal in most places, increasing with temperature and sunshine in the spring and summer. Ocean currents tend to congregate jellyfish into large swarms or "blooms", consisting of hundreds or thousands of individuals. In addition to sometimes being concentrated by ocean currents, blooms can furthermore be the result of unusually high populations in some years. The formation of these blooms is a complex process that depends on ocean currents, nutrients, temperature and ambient oxygen concentrations. Jellyfish are most likely to stay in blooms that are quite large and can reach up to 100,000 in just 1 bloom.

The news media recently has been full of stories about increases in jellyfish blooms . It is important to realize, however, that there is very little data about changes in global jellyfish populations over time, besides "impressions" in the public memory. In most places in the world, scientists have no quantitative data about what jellyfish populations used to be like, or in fact, quantitative data about what is happening in the present[9]. Recent speculations about increases in jellyfish populations often are based on no "before" data. Furthermore, many recent claims by the press that "this has never happened before" or "these jellyfish have never before been seen here" are the result of short community memory (one generation or less, usually), and careful research can often determine that whatever occurrence is under consideration has happened before in that location, although infrequently.



Stingray Tips

Gulf of Mexico Stingray

Read all about and see photos stingrays and their gentle cousins the Skate
at the Motes Marine Laboratory

Atlantic Stingray Photo from U.S. Park Service



The venom apparatus or "sting" of a stingray is a spine or modified dermal denticle (the scales covering sharks and stingrays) with two ventral grooves filled with venom-producing tissue. The venom itself is a largely protein-based toxin that causes great pain in mammals and may also alter heart rate and respiration. However, since it is proteinaceous, it can be inactivated by exposure to high temperatures. Because of this, immersion of the wound in hot water or application of a heat compress are recommended as an immediate treatment for unfortunate victims of a stingray injury. Although this may reduce the initial pain of a stingray injury, victims should still obtain medical assistance so that the wound can be properly examined and cleaned to avoid secondary infections or other complications.

For More Reading on Jellyfish:

For more reading:
Title: Jellyfish blooms: ecological and societal importance. Proceedings of the International Conference on Jellyfish Blooms, held in Gulf Shores, Alabama, USA, 12-14 January 2000.
Personal Authors: Purcell, J. E., Graham, W. M., Dumont, H. J.
Author Affiliation: University of Maryland, Center for Environmental Science, Horn Point Laboratory, Cambridge, Maryland, USA.
Editors: Purcell, J. E., Graham, W. M., Dumont, H. J.
Document Title: Hydrobiologia

Abstract:This issue contains the proceedings of the International Conference on Jellyfish Blooms, held at Alabama, USA during January 12-14, 2000. The theme of the conference is "Jellyfish Blooms: Ecological and Societal Importance." It is divided into the following topics: jellyfish and human enterprise (fisheries and tourism); jellyfish and changing ecosystem; physical/hydrodynamic interactions with jellyfish; jellyfish reproduction and population biology; and general ecology of jellyfish.
Publisher: Kluwer Academic Publishers



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