Massive strandings of pleustonic Portuguese Man-of-War (Physalia physalis) related to ENSO events along the southeastern Pacific Ocean
Purcell, Jennifer E.
Blooms of stinging pelagic cnidarians have been causing increasing health problems for humans worldwide. Physalia physalis is among the worst stinging species in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans along the North and South American coasts. This siphonophore species has a large gas float and lives at the ocean surface, where its distribution is affected mainly by winds. P. physalis's strandings were observed in the southeastern Pacific Ocean for three consecutive years (2014 to 2016). Data of stranded P. physalis were gathered daily through a collaborative effort between the Chilean Navy and the Chilean Ministry of Health. The association between oceanographic variables and the stranded P. physalis was assessed using a generalized additive mixed model (GAMM) and cross-correlation analysis. The largest stranding occurred along more than 2600 km of coastline and totaled 44,683 colonies. Most of the strandings were along the central and south-central coast of Chile, where almost 200 people were stung, and more than 120 beaches were closed in summer 2016. The GAMM model showed that the oceanographic conditions of warmer temperatures during the winter periods and the weakening of the westerly winds associated with the Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) were the most likely causes for the arrival of transport from the colonies to the coast. Also, our analysis illustrates the utility of collaborations among scientists and public organizations to promote large-scale and long-term understanding and provide a model for predicting this dangerous species' arrival and warning for beaches and swimmers, which is of global importance for human health.