Whilst conducting a Macro Photo Dive this morning at Palau Mamutik in the Tunku Abdul Rahman Park (TARP), Kota Kinabalu, Sabah we came upon what is reputed to be the most venomous marine creature on earth, the Box Jellyfish Chironex sp, sometimes referred to as the Sea Wasp.
Known mostly for its presence in Northern Australia for approx. 50 -60 deaths in the past 100 years. In the Asia – pacific region deaths resulting from these creatures are less reported and as a result their existence for most people goes unnoticed. Dr Jamie Seymour, head of the Australia Tropical Stinger Research Center – QLD suggests as many as 100 – 200 deaths per year may take place in Asia Pacific.
Easily recognized by the box shaped head and four clusters of tentacles grouped together at each corner. They are a member of the class Cubozon and scientists today are still deciphering the basic biology of these lethal creatures.
What we do know is each one of their tentacles contain millions of stinging cells and if a person is stung badly death can occur in a few minutes. Fortunately these animals do not target humans but they do inhabit surrounding waters of tropical beaches where we love to swim.
They have eyes at each corner of the box head but no brain, see image left. When they see something as large as a human its thought they stay away.
In more than 400 dives within the TAR Park, we’ve only ever seen three whilst underwater, one upon exiting a shore dive, one in the surface waters above the reef and today, on an artificial reef in 5m of water, all were within a handful of meters from bikini clad swimmers. We have also seen them cruising the Sutera Harbor region on the mainland more frequently, perhaps they enter the marina and find it difficult to get out. Usually our sightings follow heavy periods of rain, as has been the case here for the past two weeks.
Encounters with these animals are very rare here in Sabah, when we first arrived and for several months we were unaware of their presence. We feel however that people should be somewhat vigilant especially those with children, a young girl died from a sting last November just a few hundred meters from where we saw one today. Treatment for stings is to apply acetic acid -household vinegar but most importantly seek medical care immediately.
Its also important to know that not all jellyfish are dangerous to humans, we often encounter other species that are quite stunning in appearance and totally harmless.