What is the Portuguese Man of War and why is it invading Terengganu?

The Department of Fisheries (DOF) of Malaysia has issued a warning that a dangerous species of jellyfish has been seen in the waters of Terengganu: Physalia physalis. If you’re having trouble remembering that—just like everyone else, I’d assume—the species is commonly known as the Portuguese Man of War Jellyfish. Sightings have been reported at Pantai Pulau Kekabu in Marang, Pantai Rhu Sepuluh and Pantai Bari in Setiu, and visitors have been warned to avoid the aforementioned areas.

The Portuguese Man of War has a poisonous sting, which can be fatal, with thousands of “nematocysts” on its tentacles which will cause a severe amount of pain to its victims. This is exacerbated by the fact that there is no antidote available for the Portuguese Man of War’s poison, and medical professionals can simply prescribe pain-killers to treat the symptoms. That said, human fatalities are rare, according to National Geographic.

Generally found in the Pacific Ocean, the Portuguese Man of War is a species of jellyfish has also been spotted in the waters of Thailand, Kuantan, Pulau Tioman, and Sabah in recent times. This, according to the Fisheries Department, is due to the heavy currents of the monsoon season on the east coast. That said, another interesting piece of trivia is that the man-of-war isn’t even technically a jellyfish—instead, it’s a siphonophore, which is an animal made up of a multiple organisms working together.

The Portugese Man of War does not, unlike some other species of jellyfish, have its own means of movement. Instead, its movement is dependent on the currents of the ocean—which might explain the surprise sightings in Terengganu waters.

The DOF warns against entering the waters where this particular species has been sighted, while any sightings in new places should be reported via an SMS hotline—FISHCOM at 03-88805019. Even if the “jellyfish” is dead, individuals are advised not to touch the carcass, with the jellyfish still poisonous in its posthumous state.

And if it isn’t already obvious, the DOF also advises the public not to touch, hold, retrieve, or keep the Portuguese Man of War.