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What Stopped Chloë McCardel?

Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California.

While the marathon swimming world cheered her on for her courageous swim, Chloë McCardel’s attempt to be the first person to complete a non-stop swim from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage or protective swim gear ended with a severe debilitating jellyfish sting.

Although the type of jellyfish has yet to be officially confirmed, it is our guess based on numerous trips back and forth across the Straits of Florida that the type of jellyfish that McCardel encountered was a box jellyfish.

Although no official government information is available, or a worldwide coalition of data-gathering agencies, dozens of people and perhaps more than 100 die each year from stings of the venomous box jellyfish.

Up to 40 people die from box jellyfish stings annually in the Philippines alone according to the U.S. National Science Foundation. “But because death certificates are not required in many countries within the range of box jellyfish, worldwide fatalities from box jellyfish may be seriously underestimated,” the National Science Foundation.

Last year, we traveled with four jellyfish imaging specialists from the world-renowned Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Massachusetts. Under the direction of Mike McCarthney, the team of experts including Adam Sarafian, Mathhew Weeks, and Lily Bieber-Ham, utilized a variety of visible and invisible photographic imaging equipment that detected jellyfish in the water. What they found during the dusk to dawn hours was shocking and scary to us as the blooms of box jellyfish were overwhelming.

The high-tech imaging system identified the box jellyfish that follows its food sources to the water’s surface as the sun sets. As night approaches, the royal blue of the Caribbean Sea turns quickly to a deep blackness that effectively camouflages the venonously invisible box jellies. Like clockwork the bane of channel swimmers rise, and destroy the dreams of those who swim in their wake.

While many channel swimmers and marathon swimmers pride themselves on withstanding an incredible amount of pain and suffering, as well as jellyfish stings, the venom that is ejected by the barbs of the box jellyfish is at a completely different level as is demonstrated by the number of individuals who die every year. These box jellyfish not only can see where they are going, they can also swim purposefully while identifying prey.

They are a very scary species and an insurmountable obstacle to those humans who cross their path.

NOTE: McCardel’s explanation at her post-swim press conference is here.

Copyright © 2013 by World Open Water Swimming Association

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