Habitat - Where Are They?

Exactly where deadly Box Jellyfish specifically live in Thailand's waters is at this stage a bit of a mystery - much like the number of stings and the number of fatalities. No-one is sure.
There has never been any serious research in Thailand to gather data on deadly Box Jellyfish though the few times that fatalities have been attributed to a Box Jellyfish sting, some form of investigation has occurred though usually it doesn't last and isn't followed through.

Thankfully this is finally changing due mainly to pressure on tourism and potential damage to the industry when another official fatality occurs. It is believed that there is anywhere between 1 - 10 deaths in Thailand per year due to Box Jellyfish predominantly in indigenous communities.

Determining cause of death in Thailand can be a hit and miss affair and drownings particularly could be caused by stings though this in all likelihood would not be reported - a sting on Chaweng Beach in May 2009 had typical linear lesions but the doctor put it down to 'allergic dermatitis' while I know of one fatality where the police forced a death certificate on the bereaved partner of the victim claiming drunk drowning, in Thai!

Government medical officials are investigating the societal impact while marine scientists are learning all about the animals - processes are being put in place to better manage the problem but this is just the beginning and there is a long way to go.

So, where are they? Sampling of strategic areas is being undertaken to find this out. At the moment there is the Australian experience with the deadly Australian box jellyfish Chironex Fleckeri but it appears as though the situation is somewhat different in Thailand with the Australian Chironex's cousin looking slightly different and living in a different land/seascape and conditions. It's also different in the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia, East Timor and New Guinea.

The profile photo is of Thailand's Chironex-type Box Jellyfish swimming 50 metres offshore in clear water on a damaged coral reef at Koh Samui's famous Chaweng Beach - a beach that has produced several serious stings and a fatality in 1999. This is not typical of Australian habitat as reef's are usually no-go areas but perhaps they've adapted differently here.

Normally a lethal box jellyfish will hunt for small fish and prawns in shallow sandy bottom beaches within close proximity to a river or creek mouth/estuary. The water is often somewhat cloudy and from all reports you cannot see the jellyfish who are almost transparent. The beach at Koh Lanta where Moa Bergman died in 2008 is typical as is the Koh Mak beach where Lewis Jones nearly died late-2007 - I would not swim at either without a stinger suit!! No way!!!

Numerous people claim never to have seen a Box Jellyfish in Thailand - divers who've worked the waters for 10 years, visitors who return time and again. The truth is they are out there but they are incredibly difficult to see and tend to breed in non-touristy areas before dispersing though no-one knows at this stage where they come from. In Hawaii for example their box jellyfish arrive in a very predictable lunar-determined timeframe but no-one knows from where exactly they come.

So, while people may claim not to have seen them it comes as no surprise and does not mean they're not around. We know they are because they are stinging people in both the Gulf of Thailand and Andaman Sea.

Stay tuned as we discover more about Thailand's most venomous creature.


  1. Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "Langkawi Jellyfish Stings - Post Reports Here":

    On 9 September 2010 (two days ago) I was in the water with my husband at an island near Hong Island in Thailand. We had hired a long boat and had been touring around Hong Island. We were in water chest deep relaxing and having a wonderful time. It was about 12 noon and sunny. Suddenly I was very severly stung on my back and left arm. The pain was so intense I thought I had been attacked by a shark or shot with a shot gun. I waited expecting to see blood on the water but realised there was no blood. Then we both saw a huge brownish??jellyfish about a metre away going down with the current. The pain was so intense I was paralysed and all of a sudden everything just stopped and went into slow motion. No one there spoke any helpful English. All of a suddent I realised everyone had left the water due to my scream of agony. The boat driver started looking for a barb on my back but seemed to say there wasn't one which I supposed was a good sign? He kept saying "sorry" because his English was almost non existent. He kept talking rapidly to another long boat driver who said "sorry have no medicine". The agonising pain never stopped. It was unbearable. My husband told him to drive us back to the Sheraton immediately. When I got to the hotel, the pool guys put vinegar on my back which by then was incredibly swallen,red and bubbling like a severe burn. We were both very worried because we did not know if this was lethal or not and there had been no help at all. I suffered horrid pain for about 18 very long hours. The only thing that alleviated my pain was being under a hot shower. Once out of the shower the pain continued horribly strong. It's been over 2 days now and i still have pain especially to touch and have huge hard lumps and marks like whips on my back. I had no idea that there was jellyfish in Thailand as no one had warned us and there was no information at all anywhere. I wish tourists had this type of information available. As we were leaving the hotel to go to Kuala Lumpur I casually told the Sheraton Manager what had happened and he insisted I saw the nurse on duty. The nurse looked at my back and arm to check if there was anything that needed to be removed and then gave me some cream which he recommeded I use 3 to 4 times a day. He said I had been stung by a box jellyfish. I still don't know if I will be left with scars or not or when this will disappear as no one has given us any information. The pain was so intense even thinking back about it brings tears to my eyes.

    1. I am very sorry about what has happened. I am sure that such horrific memory is hard to be erased even after more than three years. Even in Thailand There is little or no experience on deadly jellyfish stings but nowadays some research has been initiated. I hope you have been keeping well and recovered. Please be informed that jellyfish are not creatures to harm purposely but only chasing live food supplies in the sea and their food supply and ecology are swinging by human activities mainly. Impacted nature is hardy to predict.


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