An accumulation of Portuguese man-of-war off the Atlantic coast in the Florida Keys has attracted an unusual congregation of loggerhead sea turtles feeding on them. This man-of-war accumulation is common in the warm Atlantic waters during the winter months. The Turtle Hospital is asking all boaters to pay careful attention to avoid these turtles, especially if boating south of the reef or near the seaweed line.
Jellyfish are a favorite food of the loggerhead and leatherback sea turtles. Sea turtles are a protected species under the Endangered Species Act. The loggerhead experienced some recovery under the act until recent years when nesting numbers began to plummet.
While feeding on man-of-war, sea turtles are hovering near the water’s surface and are more vulnerable to boat strikes. Sea turtles with boat hit injuries can die or suffer permanent injuries. The Turtle Hospital has a number of permanent resident sea turtles that cannot be released due to such injuries. If you are boating, please pay careful attention to avoid interactions with the feeding turtles. Polarized sunglasses can help you see turtles near the surface.
The Portuguese man-of-war is a jelly-like marine animal that looks like a fragile, crescent-shaped blue bubble floating in the water. Its tentacles can inflict a very painful, poisonous sting that sometimes can cause life-threatening allergic reactions. Consider even the slightest breathing difficulty, or altered level of consciousness, a medical emergency. Most Portuguese man-of-war stings disappear by themselves, sometimes within minutes or several hours. Treat the stings by rinsing with fresh or salt water and apply ice for the pain. Vinegar is not recommended for man-of-war stings, and alcohol and human urine may make the sting worse. Sea turtles are not affected by jellyfish stings.
If you see an injured and floating sea turtles, please contact Florida Fish and Wildlife at (888) 404-FWCC, the Coast Guard, or The Turtle Hospital.
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