Beach patrols in Ventnor, Margate and Longport reported multiple shark and Portuguese man-of-war sightings, and higher than normal rescues over the holiday weekend.
Chief Dan Adams of the Longport Beach Patrol said crews had their hands full with 118 rescues Friday, 25 on Saturday and 85 on Sunday. Eighty-six required first aid. Many of the rescues required back-up from nearby stands, he said.
“They usually are able to do rescues on their own, but we had high rip currents and a gully situation. On top of that, the crowds were above normal,” he said.
Adams said there were several shark sightings each day, and two Portuguese man-of-war jellyfish washed up on Friday, and another on Monday.
Shark sightings are not unusual, he said.
“That’s where they live, in the ocean. But with all the hype this summer, people are noticing more,” Adams said.
Adams said the carcasses are being removed as advised by the Atlantic County Department of Public Health. The Public Works Department disposes of them.
Greg Smallwood, chief of the Margate Beach Patrol, said the beaches were crowded and there was a late crowd of people waiting for fireworks on July 4, but nothing noteworthy to report.
He said shark sightings were unconfirmed, and several man-of war washed up on the beach.
“There’s a lot of bait fish out there,” Smallwood said.
Ventnor Beach Patrol Chief Bill Howarth said Ventnor had four of the purple, stinging sea creatures wash up over the last five days.
“We are following the advice of the South Jersey Chief’s Association and collecting them for research,” Howarth said. “We usually don’t see this type of activity until the end of summer when the water temperature can get as high as 77 degrees or when the warmer water comes up from the South. Right now it’s 70 degrees, so there is definitely something wrong if they are here now,” he said.
According to National Geographic, man-of-war jellyfish can float in groups of 1,000 or more on top of the warm water of the Gulf Stream, and because they have no independent means of propulsion, they drift on the currents or catch the wind. To avoid threats on the surface, they can deflate their air bags and briefly submerge beneath the sea.
According to NOAA’s National Marine Sanctuary encyclopedia, “the Portuguese man-of-war is highly toxic; contact with its tentacles will result in a painful, intense sting, welting, and blistering. People in the water must be aware that man-of-war tentacles can drag for up to 30 feet behind the animal.”
They are normally found in the warm waters of the Bahamas, Caribbean, Florida, also in warm temperate or tropical waters of the Pacific and Indian Oceans, the encyclopedia states.
Their sting can be nasty, even after they are dead, so officials warn people not to touch them if they come across one in the ocean or washed up on the beach.
Other effects of a Portuguese man-of-war sting include muscle stiffness, muscle aches, stomach issues, confusion and shock.
Nevertheless, Howarth said this past Fourth of July weekend was one of the nicest three-day stretches he’s seen on a holiday weekend in a long time.
“Saturday, it was real nice. Whenever the Fourth occurs on the weekend, the beaches are always more crowded,” he said.
Margate Fire Chief Anthony Tabasso said all the high-risk factors were in play this holiday weekend.
“It was a holiday weekend, conditions in the water were worse than normal, there were rip tides, a few shark sightings and a few Portuguese man-of-war washed up on the beach. But even with all that, it was a good weekend.”