Stingrays beware: Humans are coming

By Patricia B. Dwyer

It seems every summer stingrays flock to San Diego’s coastline to ruin beachgoers’ days and stress out the lifeguards. But these coastal critters most likely see the season as more of a warzone than we do.

“The stingray is a cool guy — he’s just hanging out in the shallow water, enjoying the sunshine,” Justin Baar, lead surf instructor at the Mission Bay Aquatic Center, says to his surf class of 9 and 10-year-olds.

“And what would you do if Andre the Giant came and stepped on your face while you were getting some sun? You’d smack him!”

This year’s count hasn’t begun to near last year’s tally of stingray incidents — which include a one-day surge last summer at La Jolla Shores, but the local water temperature is reaching into the high 60s and the months of potential stingray mayhem are just around the corner.

As tourists eye the water’s edge apprehensively, there a few tips that can make a tromp into the shore break all the more enjoyable.

n The stingray shuffle works: Something so simple sounds like an aged wives’ tale, but the motion actually sends vibrations through the sand that lets a stingray know something is approaching and to clear the scene.

“We are coming out of nowhere and they are just sort of hanging out,” said Kristin Evans, education director at Birch Aquarium.

High stepping through the shore break, which is the most common and intuitive way of entering the surf, is actually the best way to sneak up on a stingray.

• Don’t pee on it!: A lot of times when someone who has never been stung by a stingray before has their first encounter, they get their ocean creatures confused and think they should pee on their stingray wound. This is the arguable remedy for a jellyfish sting and has nothing to do with the barb of a stingray. Don’t do it!

• Hot, hot heat: The toxin released by a stingray’s barb is protein-based and causes involuntary cramping of the muscles closest to the location of the sting. This cramping is what spurs the pain associated with a stingray wound.
Luckily, simple heat breaks down this toxin and is the fastest and most effective form of relief.

“We generally immerse their foot in extremely hot water, or in as hot of water as they can stand,” said lifeguard Lt. Nick Lerma. “This break down the toxins in about an hour period, and once the pain subsides you stop treatment.”

• Stingrays don’t migrate to our coastline: There is no concrete research that suggests stingrays migrate to the San Diego coastline every summer. Rather, it’s more likely that people are the ones doing the seasonal migration and crowd the stingrays in their natural habitats.

• Additional risks: There are always a few tales of a stingray’s barb breaking off into someone’s foot, or a wound getting a massive secondary infection floating around. But these are just tales.

“They can certainly give an infection, but I think two or three times in 20 years have I seen a barb break off,” said Lerma.

There is nothing about the bacteria on a stingray’s barb that is particularly infectious that separates it from any other wound a person might incur. General first-aid precautions should be taken, but nothing beyond that is required in most cases.

Related posts:

  1. Lifeguards rescue naked hiker at Black’s Beach
  2. Heal the Bay rates La Jolla beaches among tops on ‘report card’
  3. Celebrate La Jolla Shores on May 15
  4. Boaters rescue diver after hour-long search off La Jolla
  5. Jump in for La Jolla’s Polar Bear Swim

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Posted by Staff on Jul 3, 2011. Filed under La Jolla, News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

2 Comments for “Stingrays beware: Humans are coming”

  1. Bruce Locatelli

    I disagree with this statement: "General first-aid precautions should be taken, but nothing beyond that is required in most cases." Saying massive secondary infections are just tales is dead wrong. More than half of the people I've known to have had stingray encounters have dealt with serious infections that required several weeks to clear up. If you're lucky, you won't deal with an infection, but they are way more common than this story leads you to believe.

    I realize you don't want to scare people about going into the water, but you have to take stingrays seriously. Hot water definitely kills the pain, but you need antibiotics if for nothing else than a precaution. It took me three rounds of antibiotics before my foot got back to normal size.

    • James

      I'm fairly certain cleaning the wound is included in "General first-aid precautions" and you should probably make sure the wound stays clean to prevent infection.

      Nothing about this article should make people not take stingrays seriously.

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