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The Portuguese man of war and my good deed for the day - |

The Portuguese man of war and my good deed for the day

Not jellyfish but they have a dangerous sting
Portuguese Man-of-wars are also known as Bluebottles

Saving the Portuguese-man-of-war

Caravela-portuguesa // Portuguese Man-of-war (Physalia physalis)
Photo by Valter Jacinto | Portugal
Just a few weeks after moving to Tenerife I was down on the beach at Las Galletas in the south of the island when I spied two Portuguese Man-of-wars stranded on the sand. It was really exciting for me because I had only seen these weird sea creatures in books before and on TV.

Poisonous stinging tentacles

Although they are famous for being a potentially very dangerous sea animal to encounter I realised that if I picked them up by their bladder-floats that I would be safe from the poisonous stinging tentacles below. I knew they would dry up and die if left on the sand so I decided to do my good deed for the day and rescue them.

This turned out to be a lot more difficult than I expected. Each time I threw the animals out into the sea the waves brought them back in and dumped them on the sand again.

Then I had an idea. I thought that if I went out on a rocky part of the beach and threw the Man-of-wars from there then hopefully they would be far enough out to get pulled out further and not swept back in.

It took a few failed attempts and they got washed around and back onto the sandy part of the beach next to the rocks but eventually I succeeded.

At least I think I did because I didn’t stick around that long afterwards. I said to myself that I had done all I could for the hapless creatures and I realised that a lot of people would have thought I was quite mad if they had known what I was doing.

I had taken some photos of the Man-of-wars I had rescued and decided to write articles for the local press. I ended up with a story in three of the Tenerife newspapers, including Tenerife News that I was already writing for.

In the weeks ahead many more Portuguese Man-of-wars got washed up at other beaches including the resorts of Los Cristianos and at Las Americas. I felt proud of being one of the first people to have issued a public health warning to bathers about the creatures.

Victorian glass models: Portuguese man-of-war
Photo by MuseumWales
The Portuguese Man-of-war, or Blue Bottle or Blue Bubble as it is also known, is often thought of as a jellyfish but is actually a colony of polyps known as a siphonophore, with specialised functions for its different parts. The floats are filled with gas and are likened to the sails of the old-fashioned warship that gives the animal its name.

Underneath the floating part are the stinging tentacles and the rest of the colony that is responsible for eating and reproducing.The sting of a Portuguese Man-of-war is said to be 65% more venomous than that of the cobra so they do present a very real danger, and apart from intense pain, the sting can even cause paralysis of the breathing and heart failure.

The stinging tentacles of the Portuguese-man-of-war can reach as much as 50ft and they trail in the water in the attempt to catch small fish and other small sea creatures.

Despite the dangerous stinging ability that the Portuguese Man-of-war has it is actually the food of sea turtles and a species of sea slug that are not bothered by the poison.

Copyright © 2013 Steve Andrews. All Rights Reserved.



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  • Article by Bard of Ely

    avatar Born in Cardiff, South Wales, Steve Andrews lived there until 2004 when he relocated to Tenerife in the Canary Islands. He used to live on the Ely housing estate and Big Issue magazine, in which he had a regular column, dubbed him the Bard of Ely making reference to his talents as a singer-songwriter, poet and performer. He is also a writer, journalist, author, public speaker and naturalist. In 1998 he worked as a TV presenter for two series of In Full View on BBC Choice. He is the author of Herbs of the Northern Shaman (O-Books 2010) and Hummadruz and a Life of High Strangeness (Amazon Kindle), as well as having contributed to Tenerife News and the Tenerife Sun newspapers and Kindred Spirit, Prediction, Feed Your Brain. Living Tenerife, Permaculure and the National Federation of Occupational Pensioners magazines. Bard of Ely has performed at the Glastonbury and Green Man festivals and was a compère for the Avalon stage at Glastonbury in 2002 and 2003. He has had his songs released on many independent labels including Double Snazzy, Very Good Records, Pink Lemon and DMMG Records. He is written about and quoted in books by several fellow authors, and is in Fierce Dancing, Last of the Hippies (Faber & Faber) and Housing Benefit Hill (AK Press) by C.J. Stone, in The World's Most Mysterious People by Lionel and Patricia Fanthorpe (Hounslow), Real Cardiff by Peter Finch (Seren), The Trials of Arthur (Element) by Christopher James Stone and Arthur Pendragon, and in The Remarkable Life of Leonard Cohen (Omnibus) by Anthony Reynolds.
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