The most nefarious presence at the Jersey Shore this year might not be the flying impaling umbrellas, or The Situation (he's in prison, reportedly having a ball), but a dime-sized beastie with an alarming 60 to 90 stinger-riddled tentacles attached. A tiny, toxic jellyfish species—the "spider-like, clinging jellyfish," per CBS New York—has invaded the waters off of New Jersey, ready to rain pain down upon the bodies of unsuspecting swimmers.
"They have that cross, tentacles that go all the way around their bod[ies]," Paul Bologna, director of the Marine Biology and Coastal Sciences Program at Montclair State University, told NJ.com in reference to the creature's telltale characteristics. Bologna brought students out to Barnegat Bay to search for clinging jellyfish last week, and so far, he and his team have collected 200 to 300 insidious specimen. The little monsters first surfaced in the Shrewsbury River in 2016, and have spread into the Metedeconk River.
"They have a very lethal toxin," Elias Chalet, a Montclair State biology major, told CBS as the group collected algae. Clinging jellyfish carry a venom that, when deployed against their typical prey (fish), causes the quarry to freeze up; when injected into human skin, it induces intense pain as muscles seize. "The way it was explained to me is to imagine if your whole body was a charley horse," Bologna said last summer, after two men were hospitalized with clinger stings.
Steve Ahrens, 58, suffered a jellyfish assault as he waded in 3 feet of water at Island Beach State Park, and described it thus: "I got stung on my buttocks and knew right away. That evening I was in excruciating pain from head to toe, like I was being stabbed with a thousand ice picks at once."
The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection describes clinging jellyfish as "erratic" and "very sensitive," especially to disturbance of their aquatic environment. They prefer reedy areas, so if you go crashing into the shallow waters of a vegetated Garden State bay, well...just don't! Don't do that. These water spiders may definitely attack. You can try to deter them with gear like waders and rash guards, but perhaps your best bet is to head for the ocean, where the DEP says the clingers don't like to go.
Well, but those waters aren't without risk, you may be saying; they may be infested with sharks, or at least one shark, a great white one specifically. Relax! Cabot, a fishy predator who paid a visit to the Long Island Sound this week, seems to have left the building: According to OCEARCH, his last ping went out at 6:46 p.m. on May 21st, fairly far away from the beaches he'd previously been cruising.
And yeah, at least you can track that big boy's movements. The diminutive jellyfish might look like an innocent scrap of seaweed as it floats by you, all innocuous and benign until it locks you into a night-long, full-body cramp with a flick of its sinister tentacle. Swim at your own risk.