Few Swimmers Brave Jellyfish in Ashkelon

Sixteen-year-old Moshe Tzarfati from Kiryat Gat plopped down next to three teenage girls sunbathing at Ashkelon's Delilah Beach this week. "Show me a boy who doesn't come to the beach for the girls," said the energetic teen, his body full of the red burns indicating that the jellyfish have found him.

"I'm not scared of them. I swim right at 'em, try and catch 'em," he boasted to the three girls, flexing his pecs.

Tzarfati was one of only a few dozen swimmers braving the jellyfish at the Ashkelon beach Monday. The stinging invertebrates' arrival in Ashkelon marks the start of jellyfish season in Israel, causing the number of beachgoers to plunge from 10,000 to about 700 on weekends.

Zahava, who works at the snack bar at the entrance to the beach, explained the lack of bathers by saying, "It's the beginning of the week and the beginning of the jellyfish. There were 700 people here on the past two Saturdays, and dozens of jellyfish on the beach, which the lifeguards moved somewhere else," she said. Many people left when they saw the beach full of jellyfish, said Zahava, but others stayed to sunbathe anyway.

On an ordinary Saturday, about 10,000 people from all over the south come to the beach, said the head of the lifeguard station, Eli Mazmer, his hands bearing the signs of the previous day's stings.

Many potential swimmers call ahead for a jellyfish assessment before heading for the beach. "They used to ask what flag was up," said Nissim Suissa, the director of the Environmental Protection Ministry's beaches and marine department, referring the the flags signaling whether swimming is allowed. "Now they ask about the jellyfish."

The Levy family from Be'er Sheva seemed unfazed by the creatures. "Never mind, we'll dip our feet; the jellyfish are in deeper," the mom said. "A jellyfish here and there, [but] the kids are having fun and the sea is worth it."