The first time I went out to photograph the Man Of War infestation that is presently afflicting South Florida waters it was quite rough. I got some nice photos, but the over/unders in particular were not as controlled as I knew I could do if the seas laid down. So, when the wind dropped to 10-knots my buddy Phil Darche and I set out in his boat to photograph some more Portuguese Man Of War in the shallow water just behind the tower on Molasses Reef.
First were some topside shots of the Man Of Water. I had done traditional ID shots while out the day before, so here I played with light and reflections to get a different view. A wary loggerhead who came by to munch down a few Man Of War was a not-so-willing subject.
Then came the over/unders. I tried some polecam shots, thinking to stay away from the highly venomous tentacles but the boat and the jellyfish floated at significantly different rates, making every flyby very brief and frustrating. Plus, I couldn't keep the dome free of water spots and I couldn't shift the zone of autofocus in the housing as necessary to get either the topside or underwater part of the animal in critically sharp focus. Plus, I could only do either vertical or horizontal for each series, no ability to shift on the fly. For all these reasons I decided to shoot from in the water, on snorkel, with a 14mm II lens on a Canon MKIV, SEACAM housing with Superdome and S45 viewfinder.
All went well while I was using the housing blindly, just pointing in the direction of the Man Of War. But, I wanted the greater precision of using the viewfinder. I figured the "tunnel vision" of looking through the groundglass would increase the hazard of accidentally getting stung, but hey, how bad could it be?
I soon found out when the sharp and unmistakable pain of the sting simultaneously struck me on both ankles and left hand. I was wearing a brand new Oceanic LavaCore, so nothing stung me through the wetsuit, but it nevertheless found the exposed skin areas and struck. I had gloves and booties too, but stupidly I had left those at home. Note to self, next time I go to photograph Man of War, take all the protection possible ... including hood, booties, and gloves. Sigh ...
I was very surprised at the intensity of the pain, but more surprised at how tenaciously I was enveloped! The tentacles wrapped totally around my ankles and hand, so much so I had to actually swim back to the boat trailing the Man Of War. Climbing up the ladder was a "pain", as was extricating all the tentacles. They were very difficult to unwrap, stinging all the while. Even places on fins or ladder with bits of tentacle remaining would sting exposed flesh on contact.
We didn't have any vinegar or other anti-sting potions on board (although he does have now, seeing what we went through) so we just went back to the dock for the first aid. Vinegar was massively helpful, and while it smarted for a while it wasn't too bad for me. Some apparently are far more impacted by Man Of War stings, and I'm sure it matters where on the body one is stung. Interesting experience though, as they are clearly very efficient predators who are making their presence known on South Florida beaches and dive sites over these past few weeks.
For more on local impact in South Florida see: