The Irukandji jellyfish is a silent, mysterious, nearly invisible killer found in the seas off northern Australia.
The Irukandji jellyfish, Carukua barnesi, inhabits the northern Australian waters in a wide sweeping arc from Exmouth in Western Australia to Gladstone in Queensland.
The deadly Irukandji jellyfish was believed not to stray further south than Gladstone but was discovered in the waters of Hervey Bay in March 2007, when filming was stopped on a Warner Bros movie being shot in Australia.
The Irukandji jellyfish is found in north Queensland waters during the jellyfish season, roughly from the end of October to early May.
Deaths in Queensland
This deadly species of jellyfish came to prominence in early 2002 when a 58-year-old British tourist, Richard Jordon, was stung while swimming near Hamilton Island, off the coast of Queensland, in January. He died several days later.
Then a 34-year-old French tourist, Robert Gonzalez, was reported to have been similarly stung and was rushed to hospital, where he recovered.
In April 2002, a 44-year-old American tourist, Robert King, died after a brush with the Irukandji jellyfish off Port Douglas in Queensland.
The deadly Irukandji jellyfish is related to the more commonly known box jellyfish, about which visitors to the north Queensland coast are warned.
From 1883 to late 2005, the box jellyfish accounted for at least 70 recorded deaths.
A box jellyfish sting results in pain and welts forming immediately. These signs result in first aid being quickly applied and treatment begun which reduces the imminence of death and must have kept the death toll low.
A sting by the Irukandji jellyfish, on the other hand, is often felt as nothing more than a painful irritant with a rash akin to that of prickly heat. By the time more serious symptoms appear, it may be too late to save a life.
Small but deadly
The deadly Irukandji jellyfish is a tiny killer and can be unnoticed in the water.
With bell and tentacles just 2.5 centimetres across, it is almost impossible to detect.
Unlike the box jellyfish, the Irukandji jellyfish’s presence is not confined to coastal waters so don’t believe you are safe when far from shore if you are within the northern Australian arc and it is the jellyfish season.
What to do if stung
If you have been in the sea within the Australian jellyfish infestation arc and it is the jellyfish season, treat with suspicion all unexpected pain, no matter how slight, especially if accompanied by a rash-like manifestion.
If you suspect you have been stung by a jellyfish, of whatever species, first aid must be quickly applied when available.
Then have yourself brought to hospital for a more thorough check and, if required, treatment.
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