Island caretaker with dream job stung by jellyfish

In January, I posted about the "best job in the world," six months working for Tourism Queensland as "caretaker" and resident blogger on an island in Australia's Great Barrier Reef with a $100k+ salary. Ben Southall, who landed the job, was finishing his last week there when he was stung by a potential lethal Irukandji jellyfish. He'll be ok. From the AP:
 Wp-Content Uploads 2009 12 R481222 2451436 Earlier this week, Southall was getting off a Jet Ski in the ocean when he felt "a small bee-like sting" on his arm. When he later noticed a tingling in his hands and feet, island staff took Southall immediately to the doctor.

Progressive symptoms of fever, headache, lower back pain, chest tightness and high blood pressure led the doctor to diagnose that Southall had been stung by an Irukandji jellyfish. He was given pain medication and slept off the venom's effects overnight.

"I thought I'd done particularly well at avoiding any contact with any of the dangerous critters that consider this part of the world their home," Southall wrote. "This was not what I'd wanted at all and had caught me little off guard to say the least -- I'm supposed to be relaxing in my last few days on Hamilton Island."

"'Best Job' winner stung by dangerous jellyfish" (AP, thanks, Bob Pescovitz!)

"Ouch! A little incident on the beach..." (Southall's blog)


  1. My partner was stung (not bitten!) by a jellyfish in Fiji early last year – just a garden variety, not deadly. We found out the staff at the place we were staying had no idea how to treat the sting. They suggested we purchase some coconut oil, which they happened to be selling. Thankfully there was a surfer on hand who told us to head to the kitchen and ask for some vinegar. The tingly pain subsided over the next hour or so. Those jellyfish can be pretty terrifying.

  2. Protein contact needs to be established for the neuro-toxin to transfer. This is achieved by a sting, not a bite. Curiously enough, anything at all will block the protein contact, so the sheerest of pantie-hose over the arms would suffice for complete protection.

    1. The feebleness of the stingers goes back to the “utter lack of hard parts” thing. The only “stingers” they have are little cillia – a stinging nettle has sturdier stinging hairs.

  3. And now you know WHY there’s a $100k+ salary. Half of Australia’s lifeforms are poisonous or otherwise want you dead.

    Also: Jellyfish don’t have mouths and thus can’t bite anything. As the others have pointed out, the word is sting. The word is right there in the source article. Seriously.

    1. I was just signing in to point out the utter lack of mouthparts… or really anything hard at all on a jellyfish. Thats why they resort to biochemical warfare – they don’t HAVE anything else.

      Re: Anon – peeing on the sting isn’t actually a bad idea, lacking any better weak acids on hand to help. I’d try fruit juice over pee, because orange juice and apple juice are IIRC more acidic, but in a pinch wee would be better than coconut oil…

      1. I remember one time in Texas, my brother found a scorpion on the back porch of the lodge he was staying in. I was trying to remember what to do for a scorpion sting, just in case, and thought “oh right, you just pee on it.” Then I remembered that urine was the folk remedy for jellyfish, not scorpions. I still get a little chuckle from the mental image of my brother having potentially been both stung by a scorpion and then peed on.

  4. Bill Bryson has an excellent book on Australia, and frequently revisits the idea that nearly everything there can kill you. Not only are most things venomous to begin with, but so extravagantly poisonous to kill someone a dozen times over.

  5. I highly doubt it was an Irukandji Jellyfish. If you get stung by one of those and take some pain medication and “sleep it off”, you will NOT be waking up the next morning.

    1. Mind you, I think that article took a bit light on non-fatal encounters. Sharks chewing on you? Irukandji stings? None of those are especially fun even if you survive.

  6. At least I don’t have to wear a thick neoprene body suit to my job.

    Well, at least not unless I want to on Casual Fridays.

  7. He was told to wear a sting suit, didn’t bother and got stung. Moron.

    (Apparently it was an irukandji, but he was barely brushed by it, hence the minor illness rather than death.)

  8. Didn’t Steve Irwin die from some chance just-happened-to-be-fatal-even-though-they-almost-never-are encounter with a jellyfish or some kind of underwater porcupine-like thing?

    Sometimes the smallest things are what kills you, especially when you’ve taken precautions about the big threats. Life: it’s a crap shoot.

  9. I think the reason why pee works on some poisons is because it has lots of urea (an ammonium compound), so it makes proteins to precipitate, rendering insoluble and neutralizing them. In the lab we all the time precipitate proteins using ammonium sulphate.

  10. either they are lying about him ‘sleeping it off’ or it wasn’t an Irukandji. This story doesn’t add up.

    After being bitten by Irukandji, people beg for death to end the pain…they don’t sleep it off. Also, it is known that Irukandji toxinis particularly resistant to opiate pain medication and very high doses are needed.

  11. Hahaha, lots of noise about a potential hazard. You could get hit by a bus walking across the road from your house. Don’t not go to a country just in case you might encounter a dangerous creature. Lots of people live there and have never been stung/bitten/chomped on. You’ll be fine.

  12. We Australians like to make a big deal of our dangerous animals because it makes us seem insanely tough, but seriously it’s no more dangerous here than anywhere else in the world. I’ve lived here my entire life (admittedly in the city, but I’ve tramped around in the bush a lot) and the most dangerous thing I’ve ever run into is a rather small snake which made a very fast exit on my appearance. A bit of common sense (like not poking things with sticks, not sticking your hands into dark crevices and taking the advice of knowledgeable locals) is all you need to remain perfectly safe.

    Do watch out for the drop bears though.

    1. Thing is, I end up comparing it to where I live.
      We have no dangerous spiders, no truly[1] dangerous snakes, no dangerous jellyfish, no dangerous octopi, and the largest sharks here are about as dangerous as house cats. (On the flip side, quite a lot of people die from moose collisions or hypothermia.)

      With that as the comparison, Australia sounds like a veritable death trap, no matter the actual risk. ;)

      [1] We’ve got adders, and they have been known to kill people. On the other hand, they’re timid sensible snakes that tend to avoid people, and the deaths have been in small children or severely weakened people.

      1. I suppose that’s true. It’s a matter of distinguishing potential risk from actual risk. The actual risk of getting killed by a shark, snake, jellyfish, spider or cassowary in Australia is pretty low, but the potential is still there.

        (Just to undermine my point entirely, the Australian death adder is one of the few snakes in the world that’ll just lie there and wait to be stepped on. You could dance a jig around the thing and it won’t move but the second you step on it it’ll inject enough venom to turn your insides to jelly.)

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