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Marine Animal Bites or Stings: Risks, Prevention & Treatments

“Yeah, yeah, I know the sea is dangerous, but hum bhi Khatron ke Khiladi hai.”

This is exactly what I said when I went deep sea diving for the first time in Tioman Island, Malaysia in 2011.

From Archives: My first scuba diving in South China Sea, Year - 2011
From Archives: My first scuba diving in the South China Sea, Year – 2011

I’m countless snorkelling trips and three underwater dives old now. Even if you told me about the dangers of the sea a day before my jellyfish incident, I would have probably given you the same reply. With every dive, my fascination with the SeaWorld increased but my knowledge was almost the same. Call it my foolishness or ignorance, the only sea animals I thought I should be worried about are sharks, whales, and crocodiles.

After the near-fatal jellyfish incident two weeks ago, I got to know about the many dangers lurking in the deep. The unchecked heavy fishing, pollution and climate change has affected the marine world a lot. This has resulted in bloom in the jellyfish population, also called ‘Jellification of the Seas’. Even though all of them are not poisonous, they can still damage fisheries and get you seriously injured. Just so that you know, jellyfish prompted a shutdown of a nuclear plant in Sweden last October.

Along with jellyfish, there are some other marine animals that can harm you fatally so if you are a sea lover and/or planning a beach vacation or diving expedition, I have some advice and information to share.

Let’s talk about Sea Animal Sting and Bite Risks first.

Most of us know about the serious bites (usually not venomous) inflicted by the animals such as sharks. But what many of us are not aware is that most marine accidents are caused by smaller animals who bite or sting, passing the venom through their tentacles, teeth, skin, or spines.

The sea animals usually attack in the face of danger and even an accidental contact such as brushing past or stepping over an be a big enough reason for them to attack. So please listen to your diving instructors when they tell you, “No touching, No touching, only seeing, only seeing” (Pardon me but this is my favorite from Himesh Reshammiya’s musical genius).

While many of these stings/ bites are not serious, you may need immediate medical intervention in case you experience any of these:

  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Swelling around the sting and intense pain
  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty remaining conscious
  • Severe bleeding
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Spasms
  • Shock

Places to watch out

Hawaii, Caribbean, Florida, Wales, New Caledonia, French and Spanish Rivieras, Chesapeake Bay, the Great Barrier Reef, Japan, Papua New Guinea, Australia, SE Asia – Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines

Precautions to prevent Marine Animal Bites or Stings

I have tried to compile a list of precautions that can make your beach trip a lot safer. Please note that this list is not exhaustive:

  • Avoid warm waters especially when the surroundings are much cooler in comparison. Warmer water attracts a lot of infections and undesired sea animals such as jellyfish near the shore. Well, this generalisation is not always right but after getting stung; many local people told me that they use it as a thumbnail.
  • Be AWARE! Most places facing sea threats post warning signs near the beach, also look out for info on the Internet before you head out.

    Most places facing sea threats post warning signs near the beach.
    Most places facing sea threats post warning signs near the beach.
  • Shuffle, don’t step. If you’re walking in shallow water, shuffling your feet can help you avoid stepping directly on an animal. The animal might also feel you coming and get out of the way.
  • Don’t touch marine animals even if they are dead as their tentacles and skin may contain venom.

Treatment for Marine Animal Bites or Stings

Before you can get medical assistance, these few First Aid tips will help a lot:

  • Clean the sting/ bite immediately with sea water. Avoid fresh water as it aggravates the venom. No peeing on the wound please (Life’s not FRIENDS!).
  • Then remove the stinger/ tentacle with gloved fingers or use tweezers. Prevent any direct contact with hands/ fingers.
  • In the case of Jellyfish and Sea Urchin sting, washing with vinegar is helpful. But if you aren’t sure what stung you, seek professional medical treatment instead of treating the wound yourself.

So dear sea lovers, just be a little cautious and enjoy your beach time.

Be a little cautious and enjoy your beach time!
Be a little cautious and enjoy your beach time!


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