Last week in Queensland, Australia, ten-year-old Rachael Shardlow was swimming and having fun with her brother in the Calliope River, when things suddenly became dangerous. In the river she was attacked by the ominous ‘Box Jellyfish’, reportedly considered one of the deadliest creatures in the world. Rachael’s brother pulled her to safety, where she told him she could neither see nor breathe, and soon after she lapsed into unconsciousness.
The Box Jellyfish gets its name from its cubic umbrella, and has a nervous system more highly developed then its less deadly, but equally as dangerous cousins. Also called the Sea Wasp, Chironex Fleckeri inhabit parts of the Pacific Ocean surrounding Australia, New Zealand, and sometimes can be found in Hawaii and the Philippines. The Box Jellyfish likes shallow tide waters and river mouths, spends most of its time hunting small fish and other crustaceans, and is usually sighted between the months of October and May. Rather than drifting towards its prey like other jellyfish, it hunts and can swim at speeds upwards of 4 knots.
This radio report details doctor’s puzzlement over Rachael’s survival. One ounce of the Box Jellyfish’s venom can kill up to sixty adult humans, and the Box Jellyfish has a larger concentration of venom-releasing cells than do its relatives, so when someone is attacked by the Jellyfish, chances of survival are always slim, if the victim can survive long enough to receive treatment. There is no anti-venom for jellyfish stings. Treatment usually consists of vinegar baths and other various analgesic and topical ointments. Some Australian beaches actually have vinegar stations on-hand for jellyfish-related emergencies.
Other than some scarring and some temporary short-term memory loss, Rachael is reported to be doing just fine after her six-week hospital stay, and Jamie Seymour, Associate Professor of Zoology and Tropical Ecology at James Cook University, one of the doctors overseeing the case, claims in wonder that “”Usually when you see people who have been stung by Box Jellyfish with that number of the tentacle contacts on their body, it’s usually in a morgue.” Rachael seems optimistic, though she is sticking to swimming pools for now.
Be at ease: Box Jellyfish stings, while dangerous, are still relatively rare. Still, it’s important to remember that when you’re swimming, be cautious, attentive, and prepared.