Our friends in the ocean are visiting the beach

There’s a lot to be said for that big puddle of water over to our east.

No, not downtown Bethany Beach — even though that can often resemble a big puddle of water after a rain of any kind of magnitude and is indeed to the east of many of us. What I’m talking about today is the Atlantic Ocean, one of five recognized oceans on the planet, and the chief source of tourism (thus, our economy) in our region.

The Atlantic has gotten a bit of a bad rap lately. Shark sightings along the Delmarva shore have gotten people into quite a tizzy, and multiple shark-bite incidents along the coast of North Carolina have people understandably on edge. I mean, people want vivid memories of their vacations, but... Do I really have to finish that thought? Don’t get me wrong. I had a particularly good joke about trying to hide shark hickeys from your parents and significant others, but it seems kind of a waste of time and space to go there when we were all thinking the same thing.

Granted, I just wasted about the same amount of time and space explaining why I didn’t go with the joke, and now I’ve wasted that much more with the explanation about the explanation about...

But I digress.

Suffice it to say, sharks have been all the rage up and down the East Coast this summer. There are theories about warmer water temperatures, yummy sea turtles swimming close to the coastline and the 40th anniversary of the movie “Jaws” empowering sharks to feel like they can do whatever they want, from nibbling on swimmers to taking two parking spaces in the Super G parking lot on Saturday afternoons.

Rotten sharks.

Of course, another little visitor created a stir this week, as well. There were multiple sightings on Delaware beaches last weekend of Portuguese man o’ war. Or, men o’ war. Or, man o’ wars. Or, platoon o’ war. Regardless, the Department of Natural Resources (DNREC) issued a statement earlier this week advising beachgoers to exercise caution over these singularly-named cousins of the jellyfish, and stated that they haven’t been witnessed for at least 15 years in Delaware state parks.

“These are beautiful creatures that should be observed only from a safe distance,” advised Parks Chief of Enforcement Wayne Klein. The tentacles, which may grow to 50 feet in length, “can cause very painful — though usually non-life-threatening — stings.”

As a little insight to the extent of these stings, DNREC shared some of the possible symptoms:

• trouble breathing;

• swelling of the lips or tongue;

• closure of the wind pipe;

• dizziness;

• fainting;

• vomiting, nausea or cramps.

Sound like the possible side effects at the end of a male-enhancement commercial to you?

Sticking to the gelatinous theme started by the conversation over the delightful Portuguese man o’ war, some other squishy visitors made their way out of the ocean this week in a big way. Numerous people reported being somewhat overwhelmed by tiny little jellyfish that landed on area beaches and attached themselves by the busload to swimmers’ hair. Unlike the nefarious visitors we mentioned before, these are actually not jellyfish, and do not sting.

Salps are barrel-shaped organisms that have a hollow tube through the center that they use to pull water through so they can filter microscopic plankton for food, according to a Facebook post by Assateague Island National Seashore. They’re completely benign, and outside of possibly grossing you out if they squish between your toes, they are not a problem.

So, yes, we’ve had some visitors to our beaches this year that have raised both some eyebrows and blood pressures. But here’s the catch — we’re the visitors in this equation. Outside of SpongeBob SquarePants, most of us are not indigenous to the water. We happen to live on land, largely because that’s where we can breathe. They happen to live in the sea because, well, I’m guessing you know where I’m going with that.

Is the beach and ocean dangerous this year? I assure you that tides and currents are much more dangerous to swimmers at our beaches than the natural sightings we have enjoyed as of late. People horsing around and not paying attention are dangerous. People ignoring the commands of the beach patrol is dangerous. Having a bald head and not applying sunscreen is dangerous.

These ocean critters are just living their lives, following warm water and looking for food. It’s an ocean, not a large wave pool, and that means ocean life will be around you.

Just pay attention to your surroundings, listen to the guards and don’t step on anything that contains the words “man” or “war.”