So what about the sharks? Everything eats everything else in the ocean and yet, because the marine life has evolved over millions of years, the last-minute arrival of man on the scene, in evolutionary terms, has left us off the menu. The fact is, marine animals don’t know what to make of us. Keep still and they treat us as part of the scenery. Breathe out a lot of bubbles and they find that discretion is the better part of valor and beat a hasty retreat. The bigger the animal the more cautious it seems to be. That’s how it managed to survive so long and got to be big in this eat-or-be-eaten world.
However, there is still plenty to hurt you, only it’s not what you expected. Man-eating plankton is the beast most likely to annoy you with an uncomfortable and irritating sting. It’s just part of the minute life in the planktonic soup that is the basis of the food chain underwater. It’s all around you. How to avoid it? You wear a full wetsuit of course.
It’s the sedentary animals that come armed with venom while the free-swimming predators can swiftly escape into the safety of the ocean’s open water.
Jellyfish are more serious because some of them have stings that can cause anaphylactic shock. They may be fascinating to look at as they pulsate along in their aimless manner but if you are not sure which ones sting and which ones don’t, it’s best to keep away. The Portuguese man-o-war, with its purple sail and extremely long stinging tentacles floats around the temperate oceans of the world while the deadly seawasp or box jellyfish is indigenous to tropical Pacific waters and kills far more people than any shark.
Fire coral, that pretty brown stuff with the white fringe to each extremity, is not really a true coral but it’s aptly named with fire. Common in shallow well-lit water, it can deliver a nasty burning sting. It’s ruined many a holiday for anyone foolhardy enough to come into contact with it.
One animal responsible for some deaths of water-users in Queensland is the tiny blue-ringed octopus. It’s minute and looks like a ready meal for any bigger animals so it has to have some powerful defence weaponry in the form of a venomous bite. The stonefish sits all day without moving, looking like a stone. It even covers itself with weed and algae to help with the effect. It uses this strategy to make it the perfect ambush predator. Hardly able to move, it cannot flee and is armed with a set of stinging spines that makes it one of the most venomous creatures on the planet. Of the same family, the scorpionfish is hard to spot but often lights up bright red in well-lit photographs. Lionfish look wasp like and they too are armed and dangerous, just as is the pretty cone shell that can shoot out poisonous darts. All these animals are commonly encountered.
It’s safest to dive with your eyes not your hands. What of the sharks? Well, they have a very effective set of teeth so don’t annoy them and they won’t check you out to see what you are made of. If they do, that could be very serious.
Remove the casualty from the water. The toxins of the more powerful stinging animals must be broken down by intense heat. This can be applied by immersing the area of the body affected as soon as possible in water as hot as can be borne by the casualty, and for as long as the pain persists. Seek medical help immediately. Deal with jellyfish, fire coral and anemone stings in the following way: First remove any tentacles that may be still stuck to the skin and apply vinegar copiously. Do not allow fresh water to come into contact with the skin as this will cause any remaining nematocyst cells to activate. Prevention or avoidance is better than cure. Luckily, divers equipped with masks can easily avoid coming into contact with such things.
Happy Diving – John Bantin