Australia has a long list of animals, plants, and insects that have the ability to kill humans. From the tiny but feared red-back spider to monster crocodiles, most of these animals will rarely attack a human unless they are provoked.
The Irukandji jellyfish are far less discriminating.
The Irukandji are generally found in Western Australia, the Northern Territory, and recently as far south as Fraser Island in Queensland. New research suggests that the killer jellyfish could be headed for the Sydney area next.
Jamie Seymore, associate professor at James Cook University, believes that as sea temperatures rise, the jellyfish will drift even further south than they have already. He told the ABC that the jellyfish could become a “staple” for beaches along the Sunshine Coast.
"We actually found them there originally, we made comment about them being down there, and we were told, not so politely, that we didn't know what we were doing, and that we should stay out of the area,” he explained to the ABC.
"So we did, and we then published a couple of years ago showing quite nicely that irukandji jellyfish over the last 50 years are slowly, but surely, moving south … It's not a matter of if they get down to places like the Sunshine Coast and the Gold Coast, but when they get down there."
The jellyfish are temperature- dependent, meaning as the water becomes warmer, the creatures will be able to move further south.
"It's the opposite to what most people think for global warming ... where animals are liable die off because of increased temperatures — jellyfish work the other way," Seymour said to the ABC.
"As things start to warm up they do better, so all the tropical animals start moving down south and because they're so moveable they can actually get to these places in a very, very quick time."
Presently, the very southern end of Fraser Island is the southernmost location where the jellyfish have been found., However, Seymore believes this is likely to change in the next decade.
Terry George, director of emergency medicine at Bundaberg hospital, says the best way to avoid being stung is to make sure you are wearing stinger- protective clothing. And if jellyfish are known to be in the water, stay clear of it.
"The effects of an encounter with a jellyfish can range from receiving a painful sting right through to a potentially fatal sting, from a box jellyfish or one of the jellyfish causing Irukandji syndrome,” George said to the ABC.
Irukandji syndrome occurs around 45 minutes after being stung, and. symptoms can include nausea, headaches, dizziness, difficulty breathing, and spasms in the back and stomach. Irukandji syndrome is a debilitating consequence of the jelly’s sting and can often be fatal.
Lead Image: The box jellyfish's venom is among the most deadly in the world, containing toxins that attack the heart, nervous system, and skin cells.
PHOTOGRAPH BY THOMAS P. PESCHAK, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CREATIVE