Diving with Stingrays

Divers with stingrays under water
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As they gently glide a few inches above the sand, stingrays appear elegant, peaceful and calm—and they are, ninety-nine percent of the time. The only time divers need to worry is when stingrays feel threatened. A frightened stingray can plunge its sharp, venomous stinger straight through a wetsuit and deep into a diver's flesh.

Diving with Stingrays is Generally Safe

While diving, stingrays may be approached with little risk. On the rare occasion that a stingray strikes a diver underwater, the diver has most likely inadvertently threatened or cornered the animal. Perhaps the diver hovered directly over the ray or floated in front of it, making the stingray feel trapped against a reef without an escape route.

The Stingray Danger Zone

Because a stingray sees and swims forward easily, leave it a forward escape route. Most importantly, stay out a stingray's striking zone, the area directly above the ray. The ray can easily strike in the area at the top of its back by arching its tail forward. By contrast, the area behind the ray's back and the space to its sides are difficult for the ray to reach without turning its body or making swimming adjustments. Divers who are alert and aware of the stingray's attack zone should be relatively safe.

How to Avoid Attacks

Stingray attacks are more likely to happen to divers who are entering or exiting the ocean through shallow water and accidentally step on a stingray. Naturally, the stingray will react. When the stingray is stepped on, it quickly whips its long tail forward and down, which jabs the stinger at the base of the tail into the offender. This is a defensive maneuver designed to remove the diver's foot from the stingray's body, and it works. To avoid stepping on top of a stingray, divers can shuffle their feet when entering and exiting the water. In addition, divers should be aware of stingray habitats such as long sandy shores. Because neither dive booties nor fins protect a diver from a stingray's hard, razor sharp stinger, the diver should be vigilant if he suspects he might be in a stingray habitat.

How to Treat an Injury

In the unlikely event that a stingray injury occurs, there are two considerations in treating the wounded area: the stinger and the venom it contains. A stingray's stinger is covered with sharp, hooked barbs which are angled to enter a victim smoothly but hook into the flesh if pulled out. While a diver's immediate reaction might be to pull out the stinger, it may be better to allow a medical professional to remove it, in order to avoid exacerbating the injury.

As the stinger enters the diver's body, a thin sheath containing the venom breaks, allowing the poison to flow into the surrounding flesh. The venom contains enzymes which cause muscle contraction (pain) and that causes cell death. For this reason, it is important to neutralize the venom as quickly as possible. Immersing the area in hot water for at least 30 minutes can help, but it is still advisable to see a medical professional. Because the venom causes cell death, stings near vital organs in the chest and abdomen can be fatal, and these injuries should be taken seriously.