Stinger Suits – Should They Be Allowed in Marathon Swimming?

Posted by Scott Zornig, 1 July 2014

An Editorial by SBCSA President Scott Zornig

Jellyfish are fascinating, mysterious and quite possibly the most beautiful marine creatures in existence. Unfortunately, Jellyfish can also be intimating and a potential hazard when attempting marathon swims in our oceans. Jellyfish have specialized stinging cells containing venom which they use for defense and feeding. When their tentacles make contact with small fish or crustaceans, their prey can be paralyzed or killed. Although Jellyfish do not “attack” humans, the stings of some jellyfish can harm swimmers when they accidentally touch the tentacles. These stings can range from minor itching, to a burning sensation, to extreme pain or in rare cases even death.

jellies

The severity of the sting depends on the species of jellyfish, the penetrating power of the nematocyst, the thickness of the victim’s skin and the sensitivity of the swimmer to the venom. The majority of stings from jellyfish occur in tropical and warm waters. Most jellyfish inflict only mild stings that result in minor discomfort. There are approximately 4000 species of jellyfish in existence, but only a few have venom that is considered dangerous to humans. Jellyfish have been responsible for early termination of many marathon swims

Stinger suits have been used on some recent swims in waters known to have jellyfish. These specially designed suits prevent tentacle contact with the skin so the swimmer can avoid painful stings and continue swimming. I will be honest with you, my position on stinger suits has changed several times. I have gone from being vehemently opposed to stinger suits to accepting them and back again. At this point in time, I accept jelly suits and recognize Penny Palfrey’s 2011, 67.25 mile Cayman record as being the longest, documented traditional marathon swim ever completed. Penny wore a stinger suit during part of this swim. Note; there are 3 or 4 claims of longer swims which were assisted or have not provided enough documentation for acceptance as a traditional marathon swim.

I am a purist and have gone on record many times regarding supporting new safety products as long as they do not enable a swimmer to become faster, colder, warmer, more buoyant, more enduring or hurt the environment. This, of course, excludes the necessary basics (i.e., cap, goggles, lubricants and traditional suit). For example, I completely embrace electronic shark deterrent technology as there is no evidence to show assistance. Stinger suits work like a preventative jelly lotion which is applied to the skin. In fact, it can be argued that a jelly suit can actually make a marathon swimmer slower and exert more effort unlike jelly repellent cream.

Recently, there has been talk that stinger suits might also provide some warmth….similar to a wetsuit, but on a much lower level. I understand that some research/testing is currently underway. If it is determined that jellyfish swim apparel helps warm the body (even by a tenth of a degree), then I will have to reverse my position yet again…sorry Penny, but I have to remain true to our sport. In the meantime, the world distance record is Penny’s until proven otherwise.


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