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Safely Dive With Stingrays

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Safely Dive With Stingrays

Stay clear of a stingray's striking zone.

Image copyright istockphoto.com, prmoeller
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 endangered. A frightened sting ray can plunge its sharp, venomous sting straight through a wetsuit and deep into a diver's flesh.
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.
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.

Stingray attacks are more likely to occur 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 sting 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 or 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 sting, the diver should be vigilant if he suspects he might be in a stingray habitat.

In the unlikely event that a stingray injury occurs, there are two considerations in treating the wounded area: the sting and the venom it contains. A stingray's sting 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 sting, it may be better to allow a medical professional to remove it 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.

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