How to treat a stingray and jellyfish sting

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWith beautiful tropical waters and sandy shores, the perfect beach day isn’t hard to come by on Hilton Head. Unfortunately, jellyfish and stingrays are also easy to come by. As the weather grows warmer, more and more of these tropical creatures make their way into our waters, causing sting rates to skyrocket, especially in July and August when the temperatures are at their highest. Unfortunately, if there are jellyfish in the water the only real thing you can do to avoid them is to avoid going into the ocean. They aren’t easy to spot and sometimes the only way to know if they’re present is if someone is stung. Stingrays tend to bury themselves into the sand, which also makes them difficult to see. While stings are common in this area, few visitors are aware of how to treat them properly and can further harm themselves.

One of the first things to know is what kind of jellyfish frequent Hilton Head. There are several species of jellyfish that come to our waters, the first and most common being the cannonball jellyfish, but the moon, lions mane, sea wasp (box jellyfish), sea nettle and even a Portuguese man-o-war have been spotted before (last seen in 2011). While the cannonball is most likely to be seen, the sea wasp, or as it is better known, the box jellyfish, is the one that stings with the most venom and causes the most pain.

The Cannonball Jellyfish

The most common jellyfish in the Hilton Head area, the cannonball. Photo courtesy of Dauphin Island Sea Lab.

There are also several species of stingrays on Hilton Head Island that range from the southern stingray, roughtail stingray (bluntnose), smooth butterfly ray, spotted eagle ray, bullnose ray, cownose ray, and finally to the Atlantic ray. The majority of stingray stings are reported around Coligny, but that may be due to the fact that there are more swimmers and waders, not that there tend to be more stingrays.

When it comes to treating a sting from either a jellyfish or a stingray it is very important to know that ocean water is going to be your best friend. When you use clean cold water on a jellyfish sting it can actually inflame the welt, causing smaller barbs from the sting to release more venom into the victim’s skin, so take ocean water and run it over the affected area. Do not rub sand or towels over the area as that will inflame the sting for both jellyfish and stingrays.

For jellyfish make sure to put either shaving cream or a baking soda and vinegar paste onto the welt and scrape it off gently with a credit card. This helps to remove any barbs that may have been left on your skin without re-stinging yourself. With a stingray all you have to do is take out the barb that has stung you if it is still embedded into the skin.

Finally, take white vinegar and run it over the jellyfish sting for at least 30 seconds. Be sure that all the barbs have been removed as pure white vinegar may cause some of the barbs to implode and cause more stinging. Do not pour vinegar on a stingray sting. That will only cause more pain to an already painful welt or open wound. The best thing to do is to soak the sting in the hottest water you can possibly stand for at least 30 minutes.

While being stung isn’t a pleasant experience, following these steps may help you to decrease the pain caused by these native animals.


Remember, if you show any allergic signs or you begin to feel nauseous or have a fever seek medical help immediately.