OKALOOSA ISLAND — Officials are urging people not to worry after a slew of Portuguese man-of-war washed up dead on local beaches over the weekend.
Kathy Bonte and her husband, snowbirds from Canada, said they were walking on the beach on Okaloosa Island Monday morning when they spotted three in close proximity.
"Upon finding the first one, its colors drew us to a closer inspection, but when we looked it was obviously not a friendly sea creature," Bonte said. She snapped photos of the animals to add to her blog.
Rich Huffnagle, director of beach safety on Okaloosa Island, said he’s seen several on the beach in recent days and that it’s common this time of year for the animals to appear on local beaches.
“The storm we had (Sunday) probably brought them in,” he said. “It’s common for them to be driven in by storms. The best thing to do is leave them there, and whatever sent them in will send them right back out.”
Huffnagle said he had not heard any reports of people being stung by the creatures.
The man-of-war, known for their intense, painful stings and venomous tentacles, are not jellyfish but siphonophores, which are made up of several different organisms sharing a communal purpose.
Meredith Horn, a spokeswoman for Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park, said the animals have tentacles that can grow an average of 30 feet long.
“Mother Nature plays an important role in the mobility of man-of-wars,” she said. “They rely solely on ocean currents and wind to move either through the water column or while floating at the surface. Yesterday’s lengthy storm could definitely be a factor in the recent strandings of these animals.”
Horn said there was one important thing to remember if you come across one of the creatures.
“Avoid touching them,” she said. “They’re known to pack a painful sting.”