'Death Jellyfish Roaming The Coast' - Fact or Fiction?

This is a late post. At least it's not a premature post. The newspapers that carried this story helped light home fires across freezing Sweden weeks ago. Frozen Swedes were booked en masse for winter vacations south to Thailand and Malaysia, almost 10% of the population, that's a lot of newspapers and nightly TV News ratings. This sensational story lingers in the minds of Swedes which is probably not a bad a thing but the problem is, it may not have happened.

Swedish woman Ann Nordh had just enjoyed her daughters wedding at Koh Lanta and was relaxing on the beach one night at Cha-Am with her husband when tragedy struck. Mrs Nordh went in to the water for a swim and sadly died with rescuers failing to resuscitate her. The Swedish media went into a frenzy assuming the killer to be a box jellyfish. A fair assumption but for the facts. Preliminary hospital and police reports showed no signs of a jellyfish sting and it was believed that Mrs Nordh had drowned.

While local tourist operators fearing a backlash wrongly suggested excessive drinking and arguments preceded the tragedy, there is no evidence even at this stage to suggest that a box jellyfish or any other jellyfish was involved in this terrible fatality. This has been comprehensively investigated by public health officals trained in the area of box jellyfish.

Mr Nordh would have been hounded by the media and his Facebook musings suggest as much. But there was no evidence, the Swedish media simply speculated as it would make a good story. No experts were consulted to actually analyse the facts, some experts not even expert in the field of box jellyfish but who happened to be well versed in crustaceans and molluscs were quoted - they may as well have consulted some armchair experts from the numerous online forums where this issue often surfaces.

Full autopsy results are not yet available, it is still possible that a jellyfish was responsible for Mrs Nordh's death, but very unlikely. The Swedish media were informed after the frenzy had subsided but by then of course the damage had been done. In the meantime, visitors and potential visitors would be thinking twice about their holidays. Again, this is probably not a bad thing in terms of box jellyfish awareness; however, this irresponsible approach from the Swedish media could not only unfairly impact on Thai tourism at a time when it needs every solitary baht but undermines the efforts of Thai authorities working diligently to address the problem of box jellyfish in Thailand.

Perhaps it is a wake up call for everyone to look at the facts first and not go half-cocked with half-baked stories aimed to frighten and not arm visitors with knowledge and truth. A few years ago all that existed on this subject was baseless opinion espoused by online forumites many with vested interests, many do-gooders who didn't, and the odd Aussie who knew a thing or two about boxies.

The facts are out there now, visitors are getting clued up, victims are telling their stories, the tourism industry is making changes, government departments are taking action, accurate information is now available, awareness is increasing, precautions are being taken, progress is being made.

Let's not go back to the bad old days of nonsense sensationalism, blatant untruths and dangerous ignorance that put people at further risk. Let's continue to address the issue in a measured, balanced and factual yet firm manner that will continue to create positive change and potentially save an innocent life or many today and down the track. It's critical that facts should tell this story, believe it or not.  


  1. on Dec 31st just off the coast of Koh Chang my husband was snorkeling with a Dive company. After being in the water for around 30 mins (he had returned to the boat only for a few seconds in those 30 mins) he felt tired and a little cold and so returned to the boat and immediately felt 'seasick'. He has never suffered before and is rather a sea and boat lover! He then vomited, felt dizzy, fell down and started to have problems breathing. The dive staff and boathands were fantastic and provided immediate attention.
    He then started to feel numb and pins and needles in his arms and legs. His speech was impaired and face numb. Still unable to breath properly he was given oxygen which helped tremedously. the oxygen then ran out and he was passing in and out of consiousness. We returend to shore as fast a possible and he was transferred by ambulance (given oxygen in the ambulance) to hospital where he had more oxygen, blood tests, chest x-ray. No visible sign of any sting, no burns. etc. Over 3 hours he continued to improve and later that day was discharged being told that if he experienced ANY problems at all he should return immediately.
    what was the problem? we have no idea. He takes no drugs, no medicatations, no alcohol. He is fit a good swimmer and has been snorkeling and diving many times before and has never suffered from sea sickness.
    At one point during this 'attack' I was concerend that his heart would just stop as he was having such difficulty in breathing with his lips, face and fingertips turning blue.
    3 days on he is still lethargic, and extremely tired. I have searched all over his body to see if there are any marks. i find none.
    Was this a small brush with a jelly fish? At one point he remembers his snorkel being (or appearing to be) blocked and he returend to the boat to get it cleared, which was done. No idea what is was, if anything obvious.
    the Doctor was unable to diagnose anything specific, the dive company suggested it may be a jellyfish 'reaction'...but no sting or burn was apparent.
    maybe we will never know..but if he had been on his own I dread to think what the outcome may have been.

  2. Hi Lisa,

    It would appear that perhaps this is not a jellyfish related issue. A thing called salt aspiration or SWAS has been suggested. While a more accurate assessment could be made if you were to answer these questions: had your husband been scuba diving earlier? How old is he? What about TIA? Was his numbness/tingling one- or two-sided? Is he an experienced snorkeller? Was he coughing? Was he inhaling any water through the snorkel? If so, there could possibly be a component of salt water aspiration syndrome, which is self-correcting but helped greatly by oxygen.

    Hope this helps and let me know if there's anything further. Thanks for being in contact!



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