Michele C. Hollow (@michelechollow)
June 11, 2015
How much do you know about sharks, jellyfish, stingrays, and other dangers of the deep? Find out how to protect yourself.
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Where in the ocean are sharks most likely to attack you?
Shark attacks are exceedingly rare, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. But they are most likely to occur near the shore, typically between sandbars, where sharks become trapped by low tide. Tips: Don’t swim past the first sandbar, stay in groups, avoid beaches with seals or fishing boats and stay out of the water if you’re bleeding or wearing shiny jewelry.
Which of these jellyfish can hurt you?
As a rule, “pink meanies” are venomous and clear jellyfish are harmless. But there are some exceptions, so it’s best not to touch any jellies. Box jellies, which can show up on the East Coast, are beautiful — blue, translucent and shaped like a cube — but they’re extremely dangerous. If you’re stung by one, call 911. And if you see warnings about jellyfish, stay out of the water.
What are sea lice?
Found in the warm water along both U.S. coasts and in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean, sea lice are the all-but-invisible larvae of jellyfish. They carry the same stinging cells as their parents and cause an itchy red rash. Don’t shower in your bathing suit (fresh water will provoke an attack), and don’t wear the suit again until it has been washed and dried.
People on Caribbean cruises swim with stingrays and even pet them. So how are they dangerous?
Stingrays don’t bite, but they can sting you with their powerful tail, part of their venom-carrying spine. The sting causes excruciating pain and in rare cases can be fatal (Steve Irwin, the Australian naturalist, died after a stingray jab to the heart.) Most cruise ship tourists pet stingrays without incident, but every year or two an unlucky few get stung, usually by stepping on one.
How can you keep from getting stung by a stingray?
The stingray shuffle is a shuffling motion you can make with your feet to kick up sand and scare the stingray away. Stingrays like to hide in a foot of water or so by burying themselves in the sand. And a wetsuit won’t help — a stingray’s tail can jab right through it. Also, never swim over a stingray; that’s the attack zone.
In the rare event you are stung by a stingray, what should you do first?
Seek out a lifeguard and medical help even if your immediate reaction is to pull out the stinger. If the wound is deep, yanking it out can cause life-threatening bleeding. The lifeguard will likely immerse the wounded area in hot water until medical help arrives — the hot water will help relieve the pain and pull out venom.
What’s a sea urchin’s first defense when threatened?
Small, spiny and spherical, sea urchins flourish near the ocean floor all over the world, especially on rocky shores, sandy areas and coral reefs. They aren’t aggressive, but they do use their spines (often loaded with venom) if threatened. Some also have small, jaw-like structures between their spines, called pedicellaria, that release poison. Wearing reef shoes or aqua booties is a good idea.
How should you treat a sting by a sea urchin?
Whether you’ve been stung or punctured by a sea urchin, get help. A lifeguard will likely wash the wound, remove any large spines and soak the wound in hot water, which should ease the pain. But you should see a doctor, too, especially if there is any sign of infection (redness, heat, pus, increasing pain) or allergic reaction. Multiple, deep puncture wounds require professional medical help and can constitute an emergency.
Why is a coral reef dangerous?
There are three types of coral: delicate flowerlike formations, soft formations and hard stony formations. The last type is razor sharp and can cut you badly if you let a wave push you into it while swimming, snorkeling or diving, or you step on it. Fire coral can also impart a painful sting. Rinse your skin with seawater (fresh water will increase the pain), apply vinegar or rubbing alcohol and see a doctor if you have signs of an allergic reaction such as difficulty breathing or swelling of the face, tongue or throat.
Catfish are referred to as bottom feeders. Can they hurt you?
Catfish whiskers are harmless. It’s the external spines near their fins that you have to be careful of. Found in muddy rivers, lakes and water near tropical and subtropical beaches, catfish have spines that are filled with venom. The poison can cause severe pain, so see a doctor if you get stung. In the meantime, remove the spines with tweezers and soak the wound in hot water.
Are octopuses venomous?
While all octopuses have venom, very few can hurt you. Most octopuses are shy and would rather avoid contact with us. The one to fear is the (also shy) blue-ringed octopus that lives in tide pools and shallow reefs in Australia. If it bites you (you may not even feel the bite), the venom in its saliva can kill you. Shuffle your feet when entering the water and never try to touch the octopus or pick it up.
How can you best protect yourself from ocean creatures?
A lightweight diver’s suit offers a layer of protection against light scrapes and bumps, as can reef shoes and sea booties. However, a stinger can penetrate a wetsuit, and sea booties protect only the feet. So to enjoy the ocean safely: Look, but don’t touch.
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