Everything you need to know about Bluebottles on the Gold Coast

When it comes to bluebottles on the Gold Coast, we’ve got your summer survival guide, right here.

In warmer months, the common bluebottle Physalia utriculus, is an often unwelcome visitor to the eastern coast of Australia and is sometimes confused with the more venomous and similar looking Portuguese Man o’ War, Physalia physalis.

Bluebottles are not a jellyfish but a siphonophore, and can be identified by their conspicuous and pear-shaped blue translucent float or sac. One single main fishing tentacle and a number of smaller tentacles hang from beneath the float, and in the larger animals floats can be as big as 15 centimetres and the tentacles up to 10 metres long.

Looking at a bluebottle one may think that it is an individual animal, however they are actually a complex colony of four highly specialised zooids that are dependent on each other for survival.  The float supports the rest of the colony, which consists of the tentacles (dactylozooids), digestive system (gastrozooids) and reproductive system (gonozooids), which carries both the male and female parts.

Bluebottle’s travel on the oceans surface in groups called Armadas, and are blown along by the wind.  Their float has aerodynamic properties allowing the organism to lean to the left or right, which ensures colonies are blown in different directions during certain wind conditions, so they are not all washed up onto the shore.

Strong on-shore northeasterly winds and warmer currents bring the armadas to the east coast of Australia on the incoming tides.

Many Gold Coasters would remember the epidemic in January 2019, when unusually strong north easterly conditions pushed thousands of bluebottles onto the shoreline resulting in huge numbers of people being stung both in and out of the water. Fortunately, this was a rare occurrence.

When bluebottles are on the shoreline it is best to avoid swimming as they are most likely in the ocean, and it is not uncommon for their tentacles to break off in rough conditions and remain active and sting.  The same is true for those washed up onto the beach; they can still sting you even though they may be dried or dead.

Nick Moore, Senior Lifeguard with the City of Gold Coast Lifeguard Service explained it was difficult to avoid getting stung in the ocean during bluebottle season.

“When swimming or surfing in the ocean Bluebottles are difficult to spot and hard to avoid due to their blue transparency which blends in well with the ocean water. However they are easily recognised when washed in on the shoreline, which is a good indicator they are currently in the water.”

There are many myths out there about how to treat bluebottle stings,

Bluebottle stings cause immediate intense local pain and the skin can be marked with small bead-like welts or raised red lines.  Nick said some of the myths out there about treating bluebottle stings include peeing on the sting, which is ineffective, and pouring vinegar over this sting, which is a treatment only for the box jellyfish.

Here are Nick’s Top Three tips for treating Bluebottle stings:

  • Don’t rub the sting. The tentacles inject tiny barbs that carry painful venom. The pain of the sting can vary in severity depending on how much venom the tentacles carry.
  • It’s important to remove the tentacles immediately by washing the sting with seawater or by picking off the tentacles.
  • Immerse the sting in hot water (no hotter than comfortably tolerated) and apply ice to help relieve the pain.

Now go forth and enjoy our oceans safely this season!

IMAGE (C) Garry Sissons

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