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Toxic Portuguese Man-of-Wars Invade Jersey Shore in Time for Holiday Weekend

The potentially deadly jellyfish-like Portuguese man-of-war has been found up and down the New Jersey coast — and more are likely on their way.
Image: Portuguese man o' war
Fish are seen swimming underneath a Portuguese man o' war in the Gulf of Mexico. Gerald Herbert / AP

Beachgoers, beware: A horde of colorful sea creatures are visiting the Jersey Shore this holiday weekend — and they pack a painful sting.

The potentially deadly jellyfish-like Portuguese man-of-war has been spotted up and down the New Jersey coast. And more of them are likely on their way, even though the marine animals are more commonly found in the tropics.

Paul Bologna, the director of marine biology at Montclair State University, spent Tuesday morning scouring Island Beach State Park in Ocean County with his students in hopes of finding and testing the neon blue and purple man-of-war. The class wants to know why so many are being arriving there.

The students hadn't immediately found one, but "that doesn't mean they're not there," Bologna said. He's counted more than a dozen reported sightings along the New Jersey coastline this summer.

"They are definitely lots of them around," which "doesn't happen every summer," Bologna told NBC News. "We see them occasionally, but nothing as much as this."

The Gulf Stream and northeasterly winds coming from the South are likely pushing the man-of-wars up the coast from Florida or the Caribbean, Bologna said. He suspects the venomous creatures, which float on top of the water in a blubbery and bloated fashion, will likely visit Cape Cod and Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts next — but not before sticking around in New Jersey for a few weeks.

"After the first one showed up, I was suspecting there’s a good possibility that we’re going to see a lot more," Bologna warned.

The first reported sighting of a man-of-war in New Jersey this year was at Harvey Cedars Beach, also in Ocean County. "Always be aware of your surroundings in the ocean and always swim near a lifeguard," the beach patrol posted on Facebook after the finding.

A man-of-war sting can be "highly toxic," according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

"Contact with its tentacles will result in a painful, intense sting, welting, and blistering," NOAA warns, adding that man-of-war tentacles can drag up to 30 feet behind the animal when it's in the water.

And on the shore, if a person encounters one of the translucent creatures, "you see almost nothing, and that’s when people will step on them," Bologna said. "It might be sort of excruciating."

The "several different types of toxins" that the animal uses to catch prey can also kill a person, especially those who are susceptible to allergic reactions, such as bee stings, Bologna said.

Someone who has the unfortunate luck of getting stung by a man-of-war should flush it with water — or vinegar if that's something they keep in their beach bag — and then seek medical attention, Bologna advised.

But don't bother testing out the old wives' tale of urinating on the sting to purify it, Bologna added, because it doesn't work. "I wouldn't recommend it," he said.