by Jamie Winpenny
photo by Joe Graziano
Hawai‘i’s seascape is home to any number of well-known, regularly occurring phenomena: the massive winter surf on O‘ahu’s North Shore, for instance, or the annual migration of humpback whales to our warm Pacific waters. And then there are the Carybdea alata, more infamous than famous. Better known as box jellyfish, these tiny, translucent invertebrates regularly wash ashore on O‘ahu’s leeward coast, but until fairly recently, very little was known about when or why. Enter Landy Blair (pictured below), a City and County lifeguard who, after noticing a sharp increase in the number of stings occurring on his Waikıkı watch, began an informal, decade-long investigation into box jelly behavior.
No easy course of study, this: The best way to assess the severity of an influx is to wade into Waikıkı’s waters at 3 a.m., when the unwanted visitors typically begin to wash ashore.“I get out there with my snorkeling gear and collect the little guys with my bare hands,” says the Kentucky native with a laugh, his easy Southern drawl belying an encyclopedic knowledge of the peculiar drifters. “I’m the only one I know crazy enough to do that.” Actually, Landy’s quick to note that he does have several volunteers who assist him in his research and specimen collection—but in any case, he might just hold the world’s record for jelly stings, a number he estimates to be in the hundreds.
His pain, our gain: Much of what is now known about box jellies originally arose from Landy’s investigations and was later verified by other researchers—for instance, that they arrive in conjunction with the lunar cycle, between eight and twelve days after each full moon. Owing to this knowledge, Honolulu’s Ocean Safety Division now takes a variety of steps in the days leading up to a jellyfish influx, posting signs on the beach and issuing warnings to local media. And while stings can be excruciating, the good news is that most cases are easily remedied.
“Our standard treatment on the beach is to spray the affected area with common household vinegar,” says Landy. “It sounds simple but has proven to be quite effective.”