You may think that sharks are the most dangerous animal you’ll encounter at the beach. But in places like Hawaii, sharks, which only cause 10 human fatalities a year, are not the marine creature to worry about when swimming. The more serious threat is the box jellyfish—a clear, translucent sea creature that can be lethal when touched. The jellyfish kills over 100 people a year, and Dr. Angel Yanagihara, an assistant researcher for the Pacific Biosciences Research Center at the University of Hawaii at Mānoa, came dangerously close to being one of those statistics.
In 1997, Yanagihara swam through a swarm of box jellyfish during her morning swim. She’d gotten mildly stung by jellyfish before on her swims and didn’t think much of it. Then, an hour later, there was “some kind of needle pricking, but burning feeling,” Yanagihara recalls. “I was wheezing. And I felt like my lungs were filling with liquid. It was just shocking and terrifying. I was convinced that this may be the end of me, that I may be in danger of drowning.”