While shark attacks seem to get all the hype, stingray stings are actually among some of the most common beach-related injuries. Nearly 1,500 stingray “attacks” are reported every year, and as many know, it was a stingray that was famously responsible for the untimely death of Australian wildlife expert Steve Irwin, aka “The Crocodile Hunter.” Wise beach-goers are aware the ocean and its inhabitants have a code all their own, yet sometimes all the caution in the world can still land you on Mother Nature’s bad side. If you happen to find yourself on the receiving end of a stingray sting, don’t panic. They’re painful, but usually not deadly.
If you are stung, you’ll probably feel a very sharp, concentrated pain. First, try to identify the source. Chances are the threatened animal and/or offending object already made a getaway and visibility is often poor in salt water. However, it’s best to collect as much information as possible in order to access the type of treatment you’ll need.
Stingray punctures usually occur on the foot or leg and bleed easily. The area around the wound will most likely swell and may even bruise or turn blue or red. Get out of the water immediately and cleanse the affected area with fresh water. Keep in mind a stingray’s barb is not only sharp, but also covered in a film of venom, so it’s not unlikely the pain will increase as your body begins to react to the toxins. Lymph nodes in the leg especially may become swollen and you may experience muscle cramps, nausea, tremors or potentially even seizures. Go the nearest lifeguard station or urgent care for medical care.
Treating stingray wounds requires submerging the affected area in water as hot as the individual can stand, around 110 degrees. If portions of the barb are not lodged into the wound, this type of treatment can potentially be done at home instead of the doctor’s office; however, it’s important to note, if the barb is deeply lodged into the skin and/or the area does not seem to be healing, a trip to the emergency room and some antibiotics are in order. Carefully remove any surface debris from the wound with tweezers and continue to soak the area in hot water until the severity of the pain has subsided. Make sure to monitor the pain and the wound area to make sure it’s not worsening.
Learning the “stingray shuffle” is your best bet to prevent stings. Once in the water, slide your feet along the sand instead of taking steps. This sliding motion sends vibrations through the sand, signalling buried rays there’s company and allows them an opportunity to move instead of reacting with a sting when surprised.