BETHANY BEACH, Del. (AP) — The beaches are safe from jellyfish — for now.
Despite the warm winter, unusually high water temperatures and salinity levels this year, the Delaware beaches and Ocean City have yet to encounter jellyfish.
But due to those same conditions, the jellyfish are expected to surface soon and could remain in the water for an extended period of time this year, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration oceanographer Christopher Brown.
“Temperature of the water is an indication of when they arrive,” Brown said. “Because this year has been warmer than usual you expect them to be occurring earlier than usual.”
Brown studies sea nettles, the type of jellyfish people in Maryland and Delaware are accustomed to. Specifically, he uses a model to project the concentration of sea nettles native to the northern portion of the Chesapeake Bay.
For the majority of the year, sea nettles are in a polyp, or a resting stage. The sea nettles attach to shells on the bottom of the estuary and surface when the water surpasses 68 degrees.
“When the water temperature reaches a certain level the polyps release and they rise into the water column,” said Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control ecologist Robin Tyler.
In June, Ocean City water temperatures have been between 60 and 65 degrees, and Lewes has been upwards of 69 degrees, according to the National Ocean Service.
The NOS also reports the Ocean City and Lewes coasts contain salinity levels from 30.8-32.5 ppt (parts per thousand), and the Chesapeake Bay between 15.1 and 21.8 ppt.
Salinity determines the distribution of sea nettles. And the lack of precipitation in the region this year has resulted in a higher salt content in the water.
When ppt levels are between 10 and 18, the outgoing tide pushes the sea nettles toward the mouth of the bay and tributaries.
“The closer to the mouth of the Delaware Bay you are, the worse it’s likely going to be,” Tyler said.
Sea nettles usually emerge in the hotter months — July and August. But because of the warmer winter, Tyler said a larger number of sea nettles may emerge — and earlier — than people are accustomed.
And they might stay longer.
“Based on those seasonal predictions, they’re already here and they’ll probably stay a little longer — to the fall,” Brown said.
Thus far, the Rehoboth Beach, Ocean City, Bethany Beach, Dewey Beach and Fenwick Island beach patrols have not reported a single case of jellyfish stings.
Fenwick Island Beach Patrol Captain Tim Ferry said given the water temperature, he’s surprised he hasn’t seen any jellyfish.
“Even though the water temperature has been much higher than usual, we have yet to see any jellies out on the ocean,” he said. “And for the (middle) of June, it’s been five, seven, eight degrees warmer than usual.”
Don’t let up your guard just yet.
Jellyfish, including sea nettles, are native to these waters. They’re always going to be in the water, meaning stings are inevitable.
Sea nettles have nematocyst in their tentacles. Upon contact, the sea nettles immediately sting you, in or out of the water.
“When the tentacles touch you, that’s when you get stung. It’s quick, too. You know it right away,” Tyler said. “(I remember) being stung and just feeling like you got hot peppers on you.”
Tyler was stung by a piece of a jellyfish upon his first visit to Dewey Beach.
And because most people are unaware of the bell-shaped sea villains, there are few precautions beach-goers can take.
“The best bet is to either stay out of the water or wear protective clothing,” Tyler said.
“The conventional ways people enter the water when they go to the beach is not going to protect them from being stung.”
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