Man-of-war spotted at South Beach

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The Edgartown Parks Department has spotted several Portuguese man o' war at South Beach. They are warning beachgoers to be vigilant. -Courtesy Jessica McGoarty

Portuguese man-of-war are washing up at South Beach, according to the Edgartown Parks Department.

Parks administrator Jessica McGroarty told The Times a few of them have been found washed up during the morning hours. “It’s very few of them — maybe two or three of them over the mile stretch from Left Fork to Right Fork. But they are Portuguese man-of-war, and they can give you a nasty sting,” McGroarty said.

According to McGroarty, no reports of man-of-war stings have been received by the parks department, but they like to put out a warning just in case, to make sure people are aware.

“Obviously for anyone at the beach walking or swimming, they should stay away from them, and definitely do not touch them,” McGroarty said.

The man-of-war usually arrives later in the season — around late July or early August, according to McGroarty, although they aren’t seen in the same numbers right now. “They normally come when the water is really warm. This is very unusual to see them this early. Last summer we had a larger volume, but they came later on in the summer,” McGroarty said, and attributed the early arrival of man-of-war partially to rising ocean temperatures.

There is no threshold for how many man-of- war need to be spotted before a beach is closed, and the parks department normally defers in that decision to the head of the parks patrol, Eugene Townes, and the head lifeguard at South Beach, Meghan Sonia. “The head of the park patrol has been out there for 15 or 20 years, so he kind of knows when we should close the beach for something like that,” McGroarty said. “I don’t think we have ever had to close for Portuguese man-of-war — we’ve closed for lots of other stuff, but never for them.”

McGroarty added that South Beach has been dealing with intense erosion and heavy storms, and a number of sandbars have formed along the shoreline.

The sandbars can cause rip currents, which have already threatened beachgoers a number of times this year. “We have already had five saves at South Beach, which is more than we had all of last year at South. It’s conditions that we haven’t seen in a while,” McGroarty said.