Saturday, June 11, 2005

Scary! Hawaii Paddlers Stung by Unknown Organism

HONOLULU (June 10) - Investigators from the state Department of Health are working to determine what stung or bit members of canoe clubs in Keehi Lagoon over the past two weekends.

A plankton net was ordered by the department, which planned to sweep the waters at the lagoon's canoe beach for samples so the mysterious organism can be identified, said Watson Okubo, supervisor of monitoring and analysis section in the department's Clean Water Branch.

Although officials weren't certain what caused the stinging or biting, Okubo said he had heard one paddler seemed to have been protected by petroleum jelly he had rubbed on his skin.

"Holders," who swim in the water as they keep canoes in position before the start of races, were the most affected.

Catherine Fuller, a paddler with the Nui Nalu Canoe Club, said the worst cases had red spots at chest level, just about where the surface of the water would hit them while they treaded water.

One victim, Luana Froiseth, a paddler with the Waikiki Surf Club, said she quit after four races after being painfully stung repeatedly while holding canoes last weekend.

"They aren't just hitting you once. They keep stinging and stinging," Froiseth said.

There is no shortage of suspects that might being causing the problem.

Okubo speculated it could be tiny stinging sponges.

Alton Miyasaka, an aquatic biologist with the state Division of Aquatic Resources, said it might be tiny jellyfish that are so small they could go unnoticed.

University of Hawaii botany professor Celia Smith said the culprit could be a member of a group of marine animals that include jellyfish, Portuguese man-of-war, sea anemones and black corals.

06/10/05 23:10 EDT

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