SCUBA IN CUBA
BEWARE THE STING OF JELLYFISH IN CUBAN WATERS
I have been SCUBA diving for just over thirty years, and during that time I have concluded that your first dive is like your first love. You will never forget it, and while this may be true, keep in mind that all that glitters is not gold. I have had many unforgettable firsts since I began to dive in Cuba, the first shark I swam with, my first experience with a majestic whale shark, diving with a group of hammerheads, and seeing a devil ray dance along the ocean bottom. All of these unforgettable firsts are in sharp contrast with the equally unforgettable, yet unpleasant encounter with a Portuguese man of war.
These floating Medusas, which despite their beauty, inflict a nasty and painful sting when a diver’s skin makes contact their very long, and transparent tentacles. I guarantee you will never forget your first encounter with a man of war. These creatures inevitably make their way to Cuba’s northern coast, when they are carried in by northerly winds, and for the next six month they become the scourge of divers, fishermen, and swimmers. Under the beautiful blue, globe like mass that keeps them afloat are hundreds of tentacles which will inflict great pain on the poor sportsman who does not realize he has come within reach of this little monster of the seas. They do not distinguish between humans and fish, and woe is either who brushes up against these almost invisible strands. The pain from the sting of a man of war can last several hours, and welts can last for days. Severe stings can lead to fatigue, nausea, inflammation, and even shock. If you plan on diving in Cuba it is important to always observe the surface of the area around your immersion point, and carefully note the presence of any of these nefarious creatures.
If you do happen to get stung, immediately begin your ascent, and get out of the water as soon as your diving situation allows. Once you are out of the water you must remove the small needle like stingers that are imbedded in the affected area. A solution of baking soda, with the consistency of a paste, applied to the skin can be removed once dry and will draw out the stingers. Wash the area well with water, and apply cortisone.
Neoprene wet suits protect divers from the sting, but any exposed skin can still make contact with the wiry tentacles. If you plan in Cuba in the winter months, please keep these precautions in mind, and don’t become a victim of the dreaded Portuguese man of war.
By Hugo Cabrera