Scuba Diving: Man-O-War

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So here I am in the beautiful Florida Keys? How on earth did I get here 2,800 miles from home ? Did I swim? Well no, not quite. But in fact wherever the ocean is, Wade is, and since  we arrived here to the American Caribbean safely won’t you grab your trunks and join me for  my daily swim? OK then, vamonos!

On this particular day the winds are blowing through the Bahamas and pushing on through the Florida Straits. As we come up on nearly a miles distance here in the warm Atlantic we notice something glimmering off to our side a bit. Well, shall we take a closer look? We  practically get up next to it and  we immediately realize that there are maybe a dozen or more of these objects drifting with us in the water.

As a matter of fact we are surrounded by them!  So what are these mysterious purplish pink things? Portuguese man-of-war can be found throughout the World primarily in the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific oceans. Man-of-wars have a gas like bladder that enables them to float at the surface of the water and depending on which way the wind is blowing on any particular day … Well that’s where the man-of-war will go, often even meeting their doom by washing up on some unforgiving shore somewhere.

But hey, wait, those things still pack a punch! Watch where you step and don’t try to pick them up!  People often make the mistake of calling these creatures jelly fish when in fact they are not. The animal actually belongs to a group that is related to the jelly fish called Siphonophores. One would possibly be quick to assume that the man-of-war is one single organism when in reality is a colony. Siphonophores are collections of identical individuals specialized for different functions.

For instance one organism might form a tentacle  while another might form either a feeding area or an area that is used for reproduction. The tenicles are able to deliver a powerful sting to immobilize their prey by using something called Nematocysts, which are like tiny needles that have the ability to inject a potent mix of venom.

My first experience with one of these was one that I will never forget for obvious reasons. I was on the “Big Island” of Hawaii at nighttime swimming with manta rays when I was stung. A word of caution: the pain I received was out of this world! Over time I have remained fascinated by this complex marine critter and have grown to admire its beauty. I hope you had as much fun in the water as I did and I’m glad you joined me. It’s always a pleasure to have someone new to swim with.

Let’s get home now shall we? The Garibaldi are getting jealous.

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