The Sting of Rental Cars and Box Jellyfish

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The Sting of Rental Cars and Box Jellyfish

Posted by: Kim Steutermann Rogers
Destination: Hawaii Island , Kauai , Maui , Oahu
Feb 20, 2009

It won’t be a Maui weekend, after all.  In an economic counter-move, rental car companies on Maui recently reduced their fleet.  That means, they shipped cars off the island.  I am sure they do this kind of thing on the mainland all the time.  As seasons and travel flavors change, executives move their cars around like grocers use just-in-time inventory practices to stock shelves.  Unfortunately, in the middle of the Pacific, when tourism picks up again, like it always does in February and March, there aren’t enough cars to go around.  I canceled my trip to Maui, because there were no cars available.  Of course, that’s a lesson to me in travel planning, but how frustrating for those in Maui’s visitor industry.  When they need the business the most, people are canceling their trips for want of transportation.

Maybe it’s all the box jellyfish.  On Wednesday of this week, beaches on O’ahu and Kaua’i closed due to an invasion of these invertebrates.  In less than an hour, 20 showed up on the beach at Hanauma Bay on O’ahu.  More than 650 were found on Waikiki Beach.  Ocean Safety Bureau officials on Kaua’i, closed Salt Pond Beach Park after counting more than 400 of the little stingers.

Jellyfish are not really fish.  Like coral about which I’ve written before, box jellies belong to the phylum Cnidaria.  The defining feature of this phylum is their stinging cells.  The class of box jellies-Cubozoa-conjures up an idea of their shape.  According to Hawai’i’s Sea Creatures by John P. Hoover, these Cnidaria have “bells with four flattened sides and a long tentacle (or bundle of tentacles) attached to each of the four lower corners.”  The bells of the common ones here in Hawaii grow to three inches high and two inches wide with tentacles up to two feet long.

What I find unique about these transparent creatures are their eyes.  They actually have a lens and retina, allowing these jellies to orient themselves quickly in the water and swim up to two miles per hour.  Scientists feel that feature helps the box jellies feed on luminescent plankton at night.  Obviously, though, box jellies eyes don’t help them avoid collision with land.

The closing of beaches due to box jellies is not a common thing in Hawaii, and, yet, it’s not uncommon either.  A few factors must come together–somewhat like the perfect storm and the lack of rental cars on Maui.  One, wind conditions must be just right and, two, a waning moon must light the sky.  Then, box jellies (and Portuguese man-of-war) may head for near-shore waters and, hence, get washed onto the beach.  Scientists think the timing of it all may have to do with their breeding cycles.

The thing is you don’t want to get stung by one.  Not that we have the deadly kind here in Hawaii; those, the Sea Wasp, can kill an adult human in three minutes.  There are two found here, with the Winged Box Jellyfish much more common than the Raston’s.  It’s the tentacles that deliver the blow-in the water, like a phantom attack, and even after they’ve washed ashore onto the beach.  The pain usually subsides by itself within an hour but may linger longer.

If you do get stung, lifeguards suggest flushing the sting area with white vinegar, not fresh or salt water.  If you experience breathing difficulty, muscle cramping, spasms or persistent pain, seek medical help.

Thankfully, I’ve yet to feel the sting of a box jelly.  But I do feel a sting of disappointment in not attending the annual Whale Day Celebration.  I was really looking forward to the parade.

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