Skip to main content
A scary good deal on trusted journalism
Get full digital access to globeandmail.com
$0.99
per week for 24 weeks SAVE OVER $140
OFFER ENDS OCTOBER 31
A scary good deal on trusted journalism
$0.99
per week
for 24 weeks
SAVE OVER $140
OFFER ENDS OCTOBER 31
// //

iStockphoto/Getty Images/iStockphoto

It's my job to culture all the jellies at the aquarium, so I'm constantly cleaning and scrubbing and feeding and handling them. I think I've gotten used to being stung over the years, so I'm not always as careful as I used to be.

There are varying degrees of "stingy-ness," if you will. But one of the more painful of our local species is the lion's mane jellyfish. Near Vancouver, they're quite common. There are Altlantic versions as well.

In the wild, they can reach almost two metres in diameter, and their tentacles can be more than 37 metres long. Stretched out, the tentacles are really fine, like fishing line – almost invisible.

Story continues below advertisement

Once, diving off the shore of Vancouver, collecting new jellies, I swam through a tentacle. Instantly, my lip started burning.

The lip area is one of the only parts of your body that remains exposed when you're diving because you have a mask and hood on. A jellyfish sting starts off like a sharp, burning pain. It feels like you've been stung by a bee, but in a long line.

The pain faded, but I developed hives along the sting site about 24 hours later. They got really itchy, like a long line of mosquito bites.

Oddly, wild jellies sting more than cultured jellies do, and I think it has to do with what they're eating. Lion's mane jellyfish actually eat other jellies, so they have quite a strong sting.

Jellyfish have stinging cells that, under a microscope, actually look like harpoons. These harpoons basically eject and go into the skin and release whatever concoction of neurotoxins they have.

Every type of jellyfish has a different type of neurotoxin, and that's why some stings are quite a bit more severe. The box jellies you find in Australia can affect your breathing or your heart; obviously, those are really serious. But with the species we have around here, it would just be a strong burning sensation.

There's not much you can do about a sting. Usually, when we get back on the boat after a dive, we pick off any visible tentacles – you can also use a credit card to gently scrape them off – and try to wash the area with salt water. Not fresh water – it can trigger the stinging cells to sting more. Then, we recommend people just apply an anti-itch cream such as Benadryl or a hydrocortisone cream and treat it as you would any other sting. For some people, it can be more serious if they're experiencing other symptoms; just like some people may be more sensitive to bee stings, I don't see why some people might not react anaphylactically. But I've never heard of anybody dying of jellyfish stings here in Canada.

Story continues below advertisement

You hear about people urinating on the area where they've been stung. I wouldn't recommend that – just from a sanitary perspective. There is some evidence a mild acid, such as vinegar, can deactivate stinging cells. I've heard of people using other things, such as meat tenderizer. But the problem is whatever you're putting on your skin is going to affect the skin around the sting, so pouring on heavy acids or meat tenderizer could potentially make it a lot worse.

The worst is when we're out diving and a tentacle gets on your gloves and then you touch your face. Somehow it's always when your hands are full that your nose gets itchy or something, so then you go and rub it. It kind of feels like you've been punched in the nose.

Mackenzie Neale is a senior biologist at the Vancouver Aquarium.

As told to Wency Leung

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies