Marine stingers may be present in the waters of tropical Queensland year round, with the higher risk season during November – May. During this period, jellyfish are prevalent in the waters around the mainland, islands and have occasionally been found out on the reef.
By taking simple precautions to minimise risk you can safely and comfortably swim in all parts of the Whitsundays region. When taking part in any snorkelling, diving, or swimming activity with an accredited Whitsundays tour operator, protective "stinger suits" will be available to all customers at little or no cost.
Please see Queensland Government website or ask your tour operator for more information.
If you are stung, Whitsunday Regional Council provide vinegar to treat stings at each of the beaches on the Whitsunday Coast and all tour operators should carry vinegar too. Pour vinegar liberally over the affected area and seek medical attention urgently. Call 000 for an ambulance.
There are two main types of "stingers" in the area, the Box Jellyfish and the Irukandji Jellyfish.
Irukandji are a group of small jellyfish whose stings can cause serious illness in previously well humans. While caution is necessary, there have only ever been three recorded deaths from Irukandji stings and if prompt medical treatment is received, a full recovery usually occurs within 24 - 48 hours. Irukandjis are rare, but the stings can be life-threatening. It is worth taking some simple precautions so that you can enjoy your holiday with peace of mind. All Irukandji species have small, box-shaped bodies, with a single tentacle on each corner (a total of 4 tentacles). Different species reach different sizes ranging from only 1cm tall. The body is transparent and usually impossible to see in water. The initial sting from most Irukandji species is quite mild, feeling like sea lice or a mosquito bite. There is often no mark, or perhaps small red "goose pimple" marks. Often, Irukandji stings will sweat profusely in the immediate sting region only.
The less common Box Jellyfish are typically large, with substantial bodies and numerous tentacles on each corner. Their stings can cause death in previously well humans in as little as 3 minutes. Different species reach different sizes, ranging from approximately 10 - 30cm tall. The body is transparent, and usually difficult to see in the water. Box jellyfish stings cause immediate severe pain, often likened to an iron or hot oil burns. The tentacles are often left on the skin, and will cause additional stinging if not neutralized by vinegar. Severe box jellyfish stings will have a "ladder-like" appearance, and will "frost" the skin. Substantial stings covering half of one limb can be fatal.
Please note: If you do happen to get stung by one of these "stingers", do not by any means rub the sting area. Apply vinegar immediately and seek medical attention urgently. Dial 000 for an ambulance. Do not re-enter the water.
While research is still active in developing accurate prediction methods for Irukandjis, one or more of the following conditions appear to contribute to heightened risk:
- Calm water, especially in sheltered bays
- Height of summertime
- Warm water temperature
- Sandy beaches with low wave action
- Proximity to river-mouth
Note that it is still possible to get stung during the following conditions:
- Open water
- Out of season
- Bad weather eg south-easterly conditions