I refreshed my first aid training recently. While on the course the topic of stingray wounds came up. This got me interested in researching how and what to do if somebody is stung.
With the increase in activity around our shallow water areas in search of saltwater fly fishing targets, the risk of nasty encounters with a Stingray’s barb increase. Stingrays are very common in shallow water and are sometimes very difficult to see. We have a couple of species that inhabit our shallows – The Eagle Ray and The Long and Short tail Stingray. Generally the Short and Long Tails are easy to see as they are big and black however the sometimes dull coloured Eagle Rays are hard to see. Eagle rays often bury themselves in the sand while feeding and if your not careful they are easily stood on. The barb is on the base of the tail and the rays thrust them upward as a defence mechanism against predators like Orca and Sharks. The barb is composed of a material called vasodentin. It is covered with many spines which easily cut into flesh. A venom is released as the barb is thrust into its attacker. It has been known that the barb has broken off in the wound when a ray has been stood on by swimmers or surfers. The venom released causes extreme pain which peaks 1 or 2 hours after the barbing. It is common for victims to have a bacterial infection during the recovery period.
In the advent of a ray sting the victim needs to get to hospital as quickly as possible. In the meantime while emergency services are trying to reach you soak the wound in hot water for 20 minutes. The water needs to be as hot as the patient can handle, this will help with the pain. If hot water is unavailable the ice is a reasonable substitute. Do not try to remove the barb from the wound as it may break up and leave pieces inside. It is very important to allow the wound to bleed so the toxin can drain out.
For accidents that occur in Western Golden Bay it is suggested that the victim be taken to the Pakawau motor camp (Phone 03 524 8308). The motor camp is situated on the seaward side of the road on the main road through Pakawau. The main building is blue and the reception is also a small convenience store. There they will have hot water and the rescue helicopter will be able to land across the road on the lawn at the Old School Café. The Helicopter should arrive within 20 minutes of the emergency call to 111 being made.
So be careful out there. Always be aware that stingrays are very common and the areas we are wading are also their feeding zones. Its easy to forget everything when your on the dash to a big fish swimming quickly away from you. Stingrays are beautiful and majestic creatures and are not there to harm us and it is us who are invading their realm.