Diver Dies After Run-In With Portuguese Man-of-War Off Key Largo (Update)

Riptide is staying the hell out of the ocean this week. Beaches from Palm Beach to Key West are swarming with stinging masses of Portuguese men-of-war. And those bastards leave a welt that doesn't always wash off with ammonia: a 64-year-old diver died after running into one off Key Largo this past Sunday.

As if that weren't bad enough: SHARKS OMFG!

Update: Monroe County's medical examiner says the diver's death "shows no signs of being related to a man-of-war sting."

Men-of-war have been streaming through South Florida's waters for the past couple of months thanks to ocean currents. Several beaches in Palm Beach were closed to swimmers this afternoon because of the venomous sea creatures.

"They're as thick as they get," a lifeguard told the Sun Sentinel.

Although men-of-war leave painful welts, scientists say the stings are rarely fatal. Which is scant comfort for Harley Piers, a 64-year-old tourist from New Jersey.

Piers was diving off Key Largo Sunday afternoon on the HMS Minnow when the captain spotted a man-of-war and yelled to the diver, according to Monroe County Sheriff's officers.

Piers tried to swim away but then went limp in the water. Jeff Jarvis, the captain, tried to perform CPR, but Piers died before they reached shore. It's still not clear if Piers was allergic to the creature's sting or if he panicked and died of another cause.

(Update: See the link above -- the medical examiner now says a man-of-war sting didn't kill the diver ...)

If creepy, long tendrils aren't enough to keep you out of the water, sharks are now crashing the party. Enough were spotted in Palm Beach to close one beach last Sunday.

"I could see them riding the waves," Daniel Kniseley, assistant director of Palm Beach Ocean Rescue, told the Sun Sentinel. "They were everywhere, like in the movies."


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Tim Elfrink is a former investigative reporter and managing editor for Miami New Times. He has won the George Polk Award and was a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.
Contact: Tim Elfrink