Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California.

Dr. Angel Yanigahara, a biochemist and research of the University of Hawaii’s Department of Tropical Diseases has prepared for the worse if Diana Nyad gets stung by the dreaded box jellyfish, the moon jellyfish or Portuguese man o war during her 103-mile attempt.

Dr. Yanigahara has literally brought a small scientific laboratory onboard the Voyager, Nyad’s escort ship. She wants to identify to whatever stings Nyad in order to properly react positively.

If Nyad is stung, Dr. Yanigahara can hand her a piece of tape to apply over the sting. Nyad presses on her sting gently and then removes the tape.  Dr. Yanigahara then examines the skin cells that are adhered to the tape under a microscope on board.  The skin cells will tell her exactly what kind of jellyfish has stung Nyad. Then Dr. Yanigahara can provide the appropriate treatment ointment on Nyad’s in order to blunt the pain of the jellyfish sting.

Dr. Yanigahara has studied various types of jellyfish venom and developed anti-venom treatment ointment that will be commercialized later this year. “Diana faced a double whammy on her swim,” explained the world’s leading expert on the box jellyfish. “She is swimming through a low tide when the astronomical conditions are not good. So we must be prepared.”

Dr. Yanigahara and the staff from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute constantly was the lookout for the jellyfish, documenting the types and capturing samples for identification and examination of Nyad’s escort boats. The team brought box loads of research equipment, including microscopes and testing tools. “Because she was stung so often, I have Plans A, B and C,” said Dr. Yanigahara who was on board the mothership Voyager throughout the journey. “I will be tied to the mother ship, being dragged along looking for jellyfish and stinging creatures.”

It was a jellyfish jamboree,” said pilot Mark Sollinger about the chryasora, oliandias, ctenophores and 3 different carybdeid cubozoans that were identified by Dr. Yanigahara and the Woods Hole staff on the escort boat Kinship.  Crews onboard the Dancing Girls and Sentimental Journey also saw all types of jellyfish at night.

The jellyfish are photophobic, meaning that they dive below the surface to bred when the sun rises,” said Dr. Yanagihara. “They travel with the zooplankten that go up and down the water’s surface doing night and day. They follow their food source which is why they come up at night.

If we can identify the types of jellyfish, then we can better recommend the appropriate treatment.”

The green ointment that Dr. Yanagihara has developed immediately alleviates the burning, stinging sensations of the jellyfish. Dr. Yanagihara has spent years studying these creatures and developing medicines to blunt the pain caused by the barbs entering human skin.

Copyright © 2012 by World Open Water Swimming Association