Attack of the killer jellyfish in Sabah

PETALING JAYA – The spell of hot, dry weather may soon turn into a stinging season in Sabah if beachgoers are not careful.

Box jellyfish, often called killer jellyfish, is expected to ‘invade’ the state’s waters over the next four months, warns one expert.

There are already telltale signs of the anticipated blooming of this deadly jellyfish.

Some have been sighted and caught off the shores of Kota Kinabalu and scientists from the Borneo Marine Research Institute in University Malaysia Sabah (UMS) believe that these are a species that have yet to be identified.

Last Thursday, another two of these poisonous jellyfish were collected during a field trip.

Based on the institute’s findings and observations, UMS Assoc Prof Dr B.A. Venmathi Maran said the Sabah sea is likely to be infested with such jellyfish from March to June.

“Beachgoers and swimmers should be careful when they are out at sea. They should know the danger of this type of jellyfish,” he added.

He pointed out that because the box jellyfish is transparent, there is a higher chance of people being stung because they fail to spot the creature.

Maran said the UMS scientists sighted this particular box jellyfish, previously thought to be the Chironex yamaguchii species, near some islands off Kota Kinabalu, where jellyfish had never been found before.

“We therefore believe a blooming is expected and its population can even be bigger than the last time around,” he said.

He explained that the current weather is one of the major factors that boost the reproduction of this jellyfish.

“The dry and hot weather allows them to spawn and between March and June, the species is expected to infest the Sabah waters,” added Maran, whose expertise is in marine parasitology and molecular phylogeny, which is the study of how organisms have evolved.

The box jellyfish can kill a human within minutes, depending on the number of tentacles that come into contact with the victim’s body and for how long.

There have been cases of victims dying within less than five minutes.

There are at present two known types of box jellyfish found in Sabah – Chironex yamaguchii and Chironex indrasaksajiae. Both are deadly.

However, Maran said the lack of research in jellyfish could have been why the third species recently found in Sabah had been mistaken for the Chronex yamaguchii.

“We are currently undertaking a project to identify this species. Based on the samples collected, we think it is a new species.

“However, we are still working on confirming this. A molecular study and DNA testing are being done,” he said.

Article appeared on Asia One.