Todd B. Bates.
ASBURY PARK, N.J. — Jerry Meaney walked to the end of Baltimore Avenue in Point Pleasant Beach Tuesday, looked down at the Manasquan River and spotted something dangerous in the water.
“As ugly as it was, it was actually quite beautiful,” said Meaney, a Point Pleasant retiree who saw what’s believed to be a nasty stinging jellyfish. “It was a little frightening to look at, thinking I don’t particularly want to swim with that thing.”.
The sea creature is believed to be a box jellyfish — an exotic species with a severe sting, said Paul Bologna, director of the Marine Biology and Coastal Sciences Program at Montclair State University in Montclair.
“Sea nettles are nothing compared to these guys,” he said, referring to the stinging jellyfish that have plagued Barnegat Bay in recent years. Box jellies can deliver “a pretty severe sting. They can be very painful,” he said.
Bologna thinks this species of box jellyfish, or sea wasp, is a Tamoya haplonema, which delivers a sting that causes severe discomfort but isn’t deadly. It’s a warm-water jellyfish that can occasionally be found as far north as the Connecticut coast, but not in estuaries, according to a scientific book he cited.
Meaney’s sighting, captured in Tuesday photos and video on his Facebook page –Barnegat Bay Island, NJ — created a buzz and concern about potential dangers for commercial fishermen and others who are out on or in the water this time of year.
Of the 50 or so species of box jellyfish, only a few have venom that can kill people, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The Australian box jellyfish is considered the world’s most venomous marine animal, according to NOAA.
Meaney, 64, a retired emergency medical technician, said the jellyfish he saw swam several times to and from a channel in the Manasquan River near Gull Island.
“It seems like it had an intelligence that was far beyond any jellyfish or even some fish that you see,” he said.
“It would go under water maybe a foot or two and then it would swim up along the surface,” he said. “As it did, it would break the surface, almost if as if it was gulping air. It certainly looked like it was doing it on purpose. It kept going to the same spot, over and over.”.
“I was happy as could be,” he said. “Besides the fact I didn’t know what it was, I was happy that I got those pictures. This was something I’d never seen before.”.
State Department of Environmental Protection officials have seen Meaney’s jellyfish photos “but have not been able to independently confirm” the sighting, according to DEP spokesman Larry Hajna.
“It’s not unusual for more tropical species of sea critters — for example barracuda — to follow or be randomly carried by the Gulf Stream into New Jersey waters,” Hajna said in an email. “We don’t know if that’s the case with this particular jellyfish.”.
Bologna said he was on the water in the Little Egg Harbor area Friday and didn’t see any jellyfish, but it was windy and the water was stirred up.
“If (you) see one, there’s a high probability that there’s more than one in the area,” he said.
The jellyfish may have come up with the Gulf Stream, and winds can bring them close to shore, he said. There was a nor’easter this week, with gale-force winds offshore that can move around a lot of water.
But it’s unlikely that box jellyfish will become established in Barnegat Bay, said Bologna, adding that he’s never seen a box jelly in these parts.
“I don’t think these are anything we need to worry about,” he said, but as the water warms with climate change, we might begin seeing them farther north.