Swimmers fled the ocean surf in Kill Devil Hills early this week when a group of stinging jellyfish passed through.
Lifeguards treated the many people who had been stung and posted a new purple flag adorned with images of a jellyfish and a stingray as a warning to others.
The flag is part of an effort to expand warnings to swimmers beyond the red banner flown when rip currents are present, said David Elder, supervisor of Kill Devil Hills Ocean Rescue.
“The idea is like when they have a hazard on the road, they put out yellow warning signs,” Elder said. “We can post this on the beach and hopefully bring forth a conversation.”
Kill Devil Hills also uses a yellow flag that warns of heavy shore break or dangerous currents. It typically flies on a pole attached to the lifeguard stand.
When a single rip current appears, lifeguards post the yellow flag in the sand directly in front of the danger rather than close the entire beach, Elder said.
Purple flags are a common maritime warning, but Elder had Islander Flags in Kitty Hawk put images of the marine animals on them to be more specific, he said.
The flags do not include shark alerts. Though they often swim the Outer Banks waters, shark bites are rare and unpredictable, Elder said.
Crabs or hungry schooling bluefish bite more often, he said.
“You’re more likely to be struck by lightning than be bit by a shark,” he said.
Jellyfish are common and sometimes their numbers spike, provoking a spate of stings.
Jellyfish, or jellies, can inject people with venom from barbed stingers on their tentacles, according to the Mayo Clinic website.
The severity of jellyfish stings and how people react to them can vary greatly. Most of the time they cause sharp pain and red marks on the skin, according to the website. Some jellyfish stings can make a person ill with nausea or a headache. In rare cases they can be life-threatening.
Applying vinegar helps relieve the pain in most cases, Elder said. It came in handy when so many were stung last week.
“I used a lot of Dollar Tree vinegar that day,” he said.
Stingrays are also common here. They feed on worms and shellfish along the bottom and are often hidden under the sand.
When people step on them, usually while walking on a sandbar, they strike with a poisonous barb at the end of their tails.
Water as hot as a person can stand is the best treatment, he said. Barbs can break off in the wound and require medical treatment.
Elder said that a woman told him years ago that a stingray wound was the worst pain she had ever felt, including giving natural childbirth to twins.
Swimmers should drag their feet along the bottom to scare them off.
“It’s not bad to do the stingray shuffle,” he said.
Especially when a warning flag is flying.
Jeff Hampton, 252-491-5272, firstname.lastname@example.org
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