Watch out for stinging Portuguese Men-of-War

A marine charity is warning people not to touch a jellyfish-like creature that has been washing up on beaches in Cornwall and on the Isles of Scilly.

The Marine Conservation Society (MCS) has received reports of several Portuguese Men-of-War in the region just weeks after authorities in Ireland warned local beach goers about a spate of recent strandings of the potentially dangerous floating sea creature.

The Portuguese Man of War is not one creature but a colony of marine organisms Credit: ITV News

Stings can be exceptionally painful and in extreme cases fatal.

MCS says the Portuguese Man-of-War (Physalia physalis) are only occasionally reported in UK waters with the last significant UK strandings of the species occurring in 2009 and 2012.

The Portuguese Man-of-War isn’t a jellyfish but is closely related, and consists of a floating colony of hydrozoans – lots of really tiny marine organisms living together and behaving collectively as one animal.

A Cornish pasty-shaped, transparent purple float is visible on the water’s surface whilst the blue, tentacle-like ‘fishing polyps’ that hang below the float can be tens of meters in length.

It’s the tentacle-like polyps that can give an agonising and potentially lethal sting because a stranded Portuguese Man of War looks a bit like a deflating purple balloon with blue ribbons attached, children will find it fascinating. So, if you’re visiting a Cornish beach this weekend it’s well worth making sure you know what these animals look like and that no one picks them up.

Dr Peter Richardson, Head of the MCS Biodiversity Programme

Read more: Jellyfish spotted off Dorset & Devon coasts

One of the animals was found this weekend at Portheras Cove, near Morvahl by volunteers of the Friends of Portheras Cove environmental group.

Delia Webb from the group says it was found during a beach clean, lying among the plastic debris that had blown in on the high tide:

We find all sorts of strange and unusual items at our tiny Cornish cove, and we have had strandings of Portuguese Man of War before. They look amazingly beautiful, with hints of pink and blue, but thankfully we were aware of the potential danger lying beneath, and knew not to poke or prod it, just report the sighting to the MCS.

Delia Webb, Friends of Portheras Cove environmental group