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Portuguese Man-of-Wars wash up on HHI

Published: Dec. 28, 2011 at 10:48 PM EST|Updated: Jan. 13, 2012 at 11:16 PM EST
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HILTON HEAD ISLAND, SC (WTOC) - Many were out Dec. 28 enjoying Hilton Head Island's beaches. As some of these people, like Tim and Tammy Clark, were out walking, they couldn't help but notice little blue sea creatures, resembling balloons, scattered throughout the beach.

"With it being blue like that, I said what is that? As we kept walking, there was just more and more and more of them," said Tammy Clark.

What they and others are seeing are Portuguese Man-of-Wars, also known as bluebottles.

"It's similar to a jelly fish in the sense that if floats and has tentacles that can sting but its actually a community of animals all living together," said Carlos Chacon, who works for the Coastal Discovery Museum. "One animal is the floating devise and the other animals are the ones that make the tentacles and it has a separate animal in charge of digesting the food and another one in charge of reproduction."

Chacon has patrolled the beach for years but has never seen so many wash up at one time.

"We see it every year but never in such large numbers," said Chacon.

He says it's likely due to a combination of very strong winds and a lot of them being close to the shoreline.

"They can be in communities of up to thousands of them floating on the water," said Chacon. "They don't have a way to propel themselves so they basically drift with the wind."

Although they are certainly interesting to look at, Chacon says you need to be careful because even after they have washed up on shore, they can still contain venom and can give a powerful sting.

"The tentacles have stinging cells that can be very dangerous to people," said Chacon. "Some people can get an anaphylactic shock, which is probably the worst that can happen but even if you're not sensitive, it's a powerful sting. These sting cells would be active even after a few days after they die."

Because of the dangers of these bluebottles, the Polar Plunge on Hilton Head Island has been canceled for New Year's Day. The organizer, Tim Guest, says its just not worth the risk but plans on holding the event again next New Year's Day.

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