WATCH OUT: Deadly jellyfish could head to our beaches
A FRACTION the size of a shark and possibly deadlier, the irukandji are not only the smallest and most venomous box jellyfish in the world, they are also one of the most lethal creatures.
According to James Cook University Associate Professor Jamie Seymour, rising water temperatures mean at least one species of the irukandji could head south to North Coast beaches.
However, the toxicologist said while waters towards the NSW North Coast are currently too cool for the toxic jellyfish to survive, if the climate continues to warm at its present rate he expects to see the irukandji head south of Fraser Island sooner rather than later.
"I have no doubt in my lifetime we will see them on the Sunshine Coast but how far south I don't know,” he said.
"As global warming increases ocean temperatures, the East Australian Current brings the irukandji down.”
In Cairns the jellyfish thrive in waters around 26-28 degrees.
"The water temperature around Fraser Island is 25 degrees,” he said.
"As there are eight different species and there's no doubt some can survive in cooler temperatures.”
Being stung by an irukandji can result in intense pain, nausea, cramps and a chance of cardiac arrest, Assoc Prof Seymour said.
As a specialist in irukandji with the Australian Institute of Tropical Health and Medicine in Cairns, he said he has been stung at least 11 times in the name of science.
While he supports scientific research into sharks, Assoc Prof Seymour said he feels there needs to be more funding for jellyfish toxins.
"Two people have died and around 200 people are treated each year for irukandji in Queensland which costs between $15-$20 million to treat,” he said.
"There have been between five and 10 shark attacks in Australia over the last two years and we have spent something like $20 million in research, yet we can't get more funding to investigate what's going on whith these jellyfish, which seems to me to be a no-brainer.”
Unlike some deadly creatures which use bright colours to advertise their toxicity, the irukandji are the size of fingernail with tentacles as fine as a human hair.
But these gossamer-like creatures pack a punch like no other.