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Irukandji Jellyfish One of the Most Dangerous Marine Creatures of the Great Barrier Reef

Updated on April 8, 2012

What is an Irukandji?

Isn’t it ironic that the smaller the critter the more lethal the venom? The Irukandji jellyfish is one of those smaller yet dangerous marine creatures filled with enough venom to be potentially fatal. In spite of the tiny bell shaped body of the Irukandji (as small as 1 mm or 1/5 of an inch) the tentacles can reach 1 metre (3.3 feet) in length. It is within these tentacles the creature harbours its poison. Originally thought to only inhabit the tropical waters of north eastern Australia and particularly the Great Barrier Reef, it is now commonly recognised the Irukandji have been recorded as far north as Florida.

Best Way to Visit the Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef is a well known tourist haven for the adventurous snorkeler, lover of fishing or anyone enchanted by nature under the water. The reef is alive with coral and rare tropical fish flaunting their irridescent colours. There are 74 islands throughout the area known as the Whitsundays, a virtual tropical paradise. Airlie Beach is a coastal town dedicated to making sure your stay is memorable and safe.

The Dangerous Creatures of the Great Barrier Reef series has been commissioned by Toscana Village Resort, Airlie Beach Accommodation.

No Need to be Alarmed

What might sound intimidating and downright frightening the good news is that there are very few fatalities from the Irukandji jellyfish thanks to early intervention and treatment. Deaths only seem to occur if there are underlying medical conditions. Irukandji syndrome develops as a result of the sting and can be debilitating resulting in severe muscle cramps. The sting itself is only mildly irritating while the after affects resulting in pain and hypertension can continue for weeks, months and even years to come.

People and jellyfish have something in common. We both have a love of the warmer waters typically found in north eastern Australia and the beautiful region of the Great Barrier Reef. The Irukandji make their way to the shallows of the eastern coast during the warmer months of the wet season. This provides the best reason to keep out of the water during these times, October to the end of April. There are protected netted areas for swimmers but the Irukandji are so tiny the odd one has been known to infiltrate even the finest nets.

The Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef is an absolute wonderland for the snorkeler and diving enthusiast. The live coral and rare tropical fish attracts people from all around the world. The trick to staying safe while exploring the region is easy enough as long as tourists rely on local information and stick with guided tours. The saying ‘safety in numbers’ is a good motto here for even if you are unlucky enough to encounter the tentacles of an Irukandji provided you are with others who can get you quickly and safely to medical treatment the chances of an incident being fatal is extremely rare.

Great Barrier Reef

show route and directions
A markerGreat Barrier Reef -
Great Barrier Reef, Australia
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Irukandji frequent the waters of the Great Barrier Reef

B markerFlorida -
Florida, USA
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The jellyfish are now known to swim as far north as Florida

Warning Signs for Irukandji

Beaches and areas where Irukandji may be found in the shallows are well sign posted throughout the coastal region of north eastern Australia. They advise of types of jellyfish or stingers that may be found in the waters and give good advice from prevention of being stung to what steps to take in the result of and encounter. Just as vinegar is the best medicine for box jellyfish so too for Irukandji as an instant relief formula but has no effect on the underlying venom that has entered the bloodstream.

Keeping a bottle of vinegar in the car or boat is standard procedure for tourist and locals but the best advice for all swimmers is to stay out of the water between was has become well known as 'stinger season' months namely October to April of any year.

The Dangerous Marine Creatures of the Great Barrier Reef Series has been commissioned by Toscana Village Resort, Airlie Beach Accommodation.

Copyright © Karen Wilton 2012

The Great Barrier Reef Resources


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    • Karanda profile image

      Karen Wilton 6 years ago from Australia

      Only unconfirmed sightings in Florida at this stage drbj but it might pay to do some research before dipping your toes in those beautiful blue waters. These critters are nasty, especially given the size of them. Luckily in Australia and more specificall the Great Barrier Reef, the incidents from Irukandji are few and far between.

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 6 years ago from south Florida

      Thank you, Karanda, for this introduction to the amazing Irukandji jellyfish. For such a little creature, it does pack a lethal punch. Had no idea it had migrated as far as my neighborhood in Floria.

    • Karanda profile image

      Karen Wilton 6 years ago from Australia

      Thanks Pearldiver, I am so glad you have found this series and now have the opportunity to look at the nasties from Aussie waters. NZ may have some beautiful coast and scenery but you must all sigh a sigh of relief that there are none of those deadly critters like the jellyfish to keep you out of the water, just the cold I feel, burr. I hope you enjoy the series.

    • Pearldiver profile image

      Rob Welsh 6 years ago from Tomorrow - In Words & NZ Time.

      Really excellent series Karen and one that provides a good insight to how tricky some little Aussis really are! :) We are lucky to avoid both Irukandji and Box Jellyfish in NZ as our water temps are much lower than those of the Great Barrier Reef region. As a diver and sea lover, I am going to enjoy these articles very much... thanks for sharing your talents and a beautiful part of our world. Take care.