OCEANPORT, N.J. — Creatures as small as a bottle cap moving through the waters off New Jersey sent a swimmer to the hospital for two days and sparked warnings to beachgoers looking to celebrate the summer on the shore.
Matt Carlo went for a swim on a Saturday night in the Shrewsbury River, but ended up in the hospital within hours, all because of an unusual kind of jellyfish.
"It kind of like grazed my side, almost like a knife kind of cut me," Carlo recalled.
He went to to the emergency room but doctors didn’t know what was wrong, so they sent him home. Hours later, and in excruciating pain, he went back. Unfortunately, doctors could only try to make him comfortable and allow the venom to run its course.
"It just progressed throughout my whole body, like even my feet, and my hands, and my face. Like almost like charlie horses in all of my muscles," he said.
The 20-year-old had been stung by a clinging jellyfish. They're native to the Pacific Ocean, but somehow ended up in New Jersey waters.
"We've never had them," said Dr. Paul Bologna, director of marine biology at Montclair State University. "There is no reports of them in New Jersey, basically until a week ago."
Clinging jellyfish are as small as a bottle cap, but carry 60 to 80 poisonous tentacles on their tiny bodies.
"One of the things we’re most concerned about is that these little guys have some highly potent toxins," Bologna said.
The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection is trying to figure out how many might be out there. They were out trolling for them in the Shrewsbury River Friday.
"So far we haven’t caught any, after about an hour and a half of trolling with two nets," said Dr. Gary Buchanan, who heads up the NJDEP’s Science, Research and Environmental Health Division.
None have been found off of New Jersey beaches. Scientists believe that’s because the tiny jellyfish break up in rougher waters. In addition to the Shrewsbury, they have been spotted in Barnegat Bay near the mouth of the Manasquan River.
They predominantly feed at night and swarm around eel grass. Fisherman or anyone out looking for shellfish are advised to wear waders.