ST. PETERSBURG, Fla Thousands of jellyfish washed up on Florida's east coast over the Memorial holiday weekend, stinging swimmers and thwarting beachgoers.
Ocean lifeguards said about a thousand people had been stung since Friday, mostly at central Florida's popular Cocoa Beach.
"There's so many. If you walked out into the water, I almost guarantee a sting," Brevard County Ocean Rescue Assistant Chief Eisen Witcher told Reuters on Tuesday.
Large numbers of jellyfish are not uncommon, but the particular species getting blown ashore by strong east winds is unusual for the area.
Known as mauve stingers, the sea critters are a reddish-purple color. This is the first time a big bloom of the species has come ashore in the past decade, said Kevin B. Johnson, associate professor of oceanography at the Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne.
Why they arrived instead of the more familiar cannonball or Portuguese man-of-war breeds is the result of a combination of environmental factors tough to pin down, Johnson said.
But this much is known: Their on-shore appearance is as bad for them as it is for vacationers.
"As soon as they hit the beach, they start dying," Johnson said.
He suspects the jellyfish could stick around for a few more weeks, though there is no way to know for sure.
The winds might shift, carrying them back out to sea. Or, because there are so many of them packed together, they could run out of things to eat and starve to death.
"The prospects aren't too good for them," said Johnson, adding, "I don't think too many people out there are going to be sympathetic."
Witcher said he encountered a lot of disgruntled beachgoers in recent days, particularly those who had driven long distances only to be kept out of the Atlantic Ocean by the threat of the mauve stingers' tentacles.
Those who did brave the waves often ended up at lifeguard stands, where a steady stream of a vinegar solution was sprayed to help neutralize the jellyfish stings.
A few people went to the hospital to be checked out for respiratory issues after getting stung, but no major health issues were reported, Witcher said.
Maureen Lalani, a server at the Coconuts on the Beach waterfront restaurant in Cocoa Beach, said she noticed far fewer people than normal taking a dip.
But the news wasn't necessarily bad for business.
"In the end, it probably makes them drink more because they were not getting the coolness of the water," she said.
(Editing by Jerry Norton)