Portuguese man-of-wars return to Vineyard shores

The Portuguese man-o-war's tentacles pose a risk to swimmers and beach goers. — Photo courtesy of PlanktonPortal

An unwelcome summer visitor has returned to the beaches of Martha’s Vineyard. On Tuesday, Chris Kennedy, The Trustees of Reservations Martha’s Vineyard superintendent, told The Times that Portuguese man-of-wars had begun washing up along the south shore.

As of the end of last week, Mr. Kennedy reported, Trustees staff members had found one at Wasque on Chappaquiddick, 17 at Norton Point beach in Edgartown and one at Long Point in West Tisbury.

Mr. Kennedy said that none washed up over the weekend, most likely due to the easterly wind. “A couple of days of southwest winds will push them back onto the beaches,” he said.

It is not unusual for the stinging creatures to wash up on Island beaches. Winds, currents and the animals’ primitive propulsion system bring the man-of-wars to Island beaches.

The beauty of a man-of-war and its long streaming tentacles in the water hides a venomous sting. The animal’s tentacles, which can grow to be 40 feet long, are used to secure small fish for food and can inflict nasty welts on any swimmer unlucky enough to encounter one in the water.

The tentacles contain thousands of stinging cells, each of which is essentially a tiny microscopic coiled up harpoon.

Experts say the best advice is to steer clear of Portuguese man-of-wars in the water and on the beach.