Beach tips for stingrays! Everyone knows that “free at last” feeling as you enter the beach in your bathing suit, bare feet, or flip-flops. It’s the biggest weight off your shoulders, the most freeing feeling ever.
So your beach vibe doesn’t come crashing down! That’s exactly what will happen because it is no fun at all being stabbed by a stingray barb. That’s right, stabbed! The word “sting” is often used to describe what a stingray does. But, it’s really more like being stabbed by a mini knife blade that has reverse-serrated edges. Nasty! And they can do more damage being pulled out. However, it’s the gel-like mucus coating the barb that contains toxic proteins that “stings” you and brings the most pain—so it’s really more like being stabbed and stung. It’s not anything like a Bee sting. To be honest, I’d rather be stung by a bee than stabbed by a stingray, and I’d rather be stabbed by a stingray than bitten by a rattlesnake. I hope that helps put things into perspective.
First of all, they’re not out there to go after you, they don’t attack or seek out humans. They are bottom feeders who like the inshore environment from ankle-deep to well over your head. They like to feed on amphipods, crabs, and sometimes small fish and worms. When they’re not moving about or feeding they nestle in the sand and hang out in one spot. When you get stabbed by one they are defending themselves. They do this by whipping their tail up and towards their bodies which reveals the barb along their tail.
This is their defense mechanism in the animal kingdom. Because they’re mostly flat, low-profile animals that lay on the bottom, they have this way of defending themselves. Stepping on them can pin them to the bottom which will trigger this defense behavior. It’s really very miraculous how they have evolved in this way, I mean, what else but humans would step on them? But that’s a whole other topic to get into.
There are a few things you can do to avoid or minimize your chances of meeting up with a stingray:
The first thing to do is don’t rule out that it might be a stingray that you were hurt by. There can be a variety of injuries. Sometimes people think that they stepped on a sharp shell or object in the sand. Sometimes the pain doesn’t set in for several minutes because the barb occurred more like a small poke of the skin and isn’t bleeding much. Sometimes the barb is left stuck in your skin—if that happens do not try to remove it as you can cause more injury. It’s best to let medical professionals remove it at that point. Bleeding from stingray injuries can be anywhere from a little red blood to a good flow.
Anyway, get to the attention of Lifeguards immediately as they are your best help for treatment. They will get your foot into a bucket of hot water as hot as you can tolerate for an hour to two hours. Get this treatment right away! The sooner the better because the stingray toxin can travel beyond your foot the longer you wait. Hot water kills the protein toxin in the mucous-gel coating of the stingray barb.
If there are no lifeguards around, do not waste time getting your foot into a bucket of hot water. Treatment time varies depending on the wound, but it is usually best to submerse the foot and keep reheating the water for an hour or two for the best results. Lifeguards will assess and advise as to whether you should get to the Doctor soon or not. Anyway, it’s always best to treat the wound for possible bacterial infection, as infected wounds are common for stingray victims.
I’ve been surfing for over 42 years and have been stung only once thank goodness. I have worked as a San Diego Lifeguard in Mission Beach and was certified as an EMT. I’ve treated dozens of stingray victims, my own encounter being the first. Avoiding them is something to take seriously but really you’re always rolling the dice when you enter the water.
In the five years I beach lifeguarded I never stepped on one in all those times wading and running in and out of the shoreline. Crazy huh! The time I got hit by one there was no one on the beach or in the water, the waves were small, the water was cold, and I wasn’t shuffling my feet. So you just never know, but there are these things to be aware of and do make the effort because even though you “never know” you can still minimize it from happening.
I hope you have a safe time at the beach and leave with a lasting memory of freedom and enjoyment!