Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Followup Stingray Info from Uncle John

My Uncle John has been diving since he was a teenager in the 50s in Fort Lauderdale. For many years, he and my Uncle Chuck, were in the business of supplying tropical fish and other reef creatures, including sharks, to a variety of aquariums. So, when it comes to the ocean and her inhabitants, he has a lot of experience. In response to my post about Stingrays and Steve, Uncle John sent me an email. I found it very enlightening and thought you might also, so I asked for his permission to post it here:
"Stingrays can be nasty critters. Most species have a poisonous spine somewhere along the top of the tail. The southern stingray is the one that is featured as "tame." This species get quite large - 3 to 4 or more feet across. They can have a spine 6-10 inches long. They get used to being fed and will hang around established feeding areas. Usually, they're billed as harmless. It's rare to stuck by the spine because it's a defensive weapon. Generally, humans who are feeding them are perceived by the rays as food suppliers. The encounter is is neat as you described. However, they can and will use the defensive spine if a threat is perceived. Your Uncle Chuck, many years ago, was stuck in the palm of the hand by one of our local yellow stingrays, which get 6 to 8 inches across. He had positioned his hand around 6 inches above the ray, maybe to get it to move into a net. The ray responded with an upward thrust of the tail and the 1 1/2 to 2 inch barb. Chuck described a sound like a jackknife opening as he got hit. He had unbearable excruciating pain. I got him aboard the boat and got underway to Broward General Hospital. The emergency room people tried Novocaine injections into the wound to no avail. Over the next couple of hours the pain receded. His hand was swollen and sore for several days. Hammerhead sharks prey upon stingrays. I know this because of my shark fishing experiences. Most of the hammerheads hooked would die on the set line before we would get to them. Often we would cut out the jaw to make as a trophy. Usually we would find several stingray spines embedded in the flesh around the jaws. Guess the hammerheads are immune to the sting, or get too excited and ignore the pain. I imagine that Steve Irwin swam close over his stingray. It might be that he was unaware of the ray if it was covered with sand, a common concealment mechanism. The ray undoubtedly perceived Irwin as a threat. John"

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