Dangers Of The Deep – Part 2

Continuing an A to Z of the sea creatures lying in wait to attack the unwary.

Puffer Fish

With their ability to suddenly bloat and puff themselves up, one might be lured into thinking them cute and harmless. Don’t be mislead! These appealing looking creatures carry tetrodoxotin (TTX), a deadly poison more dangerous than cyanide. Not all puffer fish carry these toxins, however, and many are even eaten in Japan.


Sea Lions

Often thought of as gentle giants and frequently showing playful behaviour, they can be territorial and dangerous especially during the mating seasons. Accidents among divers are reported as being more frequent than with sharks. If you hear their territorial barking call, then keep well away.


Sea Snakes

Found in the warm waters of the Indian and Pacific Oceans, they resemble a cross between a land snake and an eel. A Sea Snake, unlike eels, does not have gills and needs to return to the surface for air. It often grows 2 to 5 feet in length but some species can reach lengths of 10 feet. There are 87 species and are not normally aggressive, but some carry extremely toxic venom. The Pelamis Platrus can be fatal to humans, so while attacks are rare these creatures should not be messed with. Their poison is 20 times more powerful than a cobra’s, but they inject much less of it. If you are unfortunate enough to be a victim, immediate action should be immobilization and pressure bandaging, followed by medical treatment, which may include CPR and administration of antivenom, as there may be danger of cardiovascular failure and renal problems.


Sea Urchin

It is so easy to step onto a spiny sea urchin. The long, sharp spines can penetrate very deep and break off, causing severe pain and infection. Sometimes they need to be removed surgically. I remember spending several hours trying to remove spines from my husband’s foot with a pair of tweezers, after first anaesthetizing him with copious amounts of alcohol. Not all Sea Urchins are venomous but one of the most deadly is the Flower Urchin, covered with flowers instead or thorns. This can cause paralysis or even death.


Sea Worms

There are many species of tropical sea worms lurking in coral or under rocks. While they are not dangerous, they can produce painful itchy rashes which can last for hours. They are best treated with antihistamine or steroid cream.



Thanks to reports in the media and films, we tend to think of sharks as the ultimate marine killers. In fact sharks don’t usually attack unless provoked and most of the attacks on humans have probably happened when they have mistaken the swimmers for the marine creatures on which they prey. Of the 350 species of sharks only 30 could potentially be dangerous to humans and only 12 are reported as being aggressive. Among the most dangerous to humans are the Great White, the Tiger Shark, the Bull Shark, the Ocean White Tip, the Gray Shark and the Mako. There are around 300 times more drowning accidents reported than fatal shark attacks, but the best way to avoid shark attack is to stay away from shallow waters where they are know to be feeding and don’t ignore warnings that they are in the vicinity. If you are confronted with a shark they may shy away from someone brandishing a stick or long object and their weak points are their gills, so striking them here could fend them off. Better still – don’t put yourself in that position!



Surprisingly various types of sponges can produce irritations and pain for quite long periods. It is safest not to touch any sponge, even dead ones washed onto the shore.



These creatures actually kill a lot more people than sharks. While they are not aggressive animals and often flee when attacked, they do object to being stepped on and use their tail stinger as a whip. Most attacks are not serious, although they can be extremely painful and some can be fatal, as Steve Irwin, the “Crocodile Hunter”, found out. As they lie on or near the bottom, often submerged in the sand, the safest way to act is to keep your feet off the bottom while diving or swimming, or shuffle your feet when wading in shallow water instead of stepping out.



A master of camouflage, it can be found on the sea bottom, mainly in the Indo-Pacific oceans, where it disguises itself as a rock. In spite of its small size, (up to 12 inches), it is the most poisonous fish in the world, having 13 spikes on its back filled with extremely potent, protein-based venom, which has the ability to kill a person in a few hours unless they receive medical attention. The sting causes excruciating pain, shock and paralysis and survivors have been known to suffer permanent nerve damage. First aid involves removing pieces of spines, encouraging bleeding to remove some of the venom, washing and soaking with water (preferably hot), then rest, elevate and dress with something clean. Medical advice should be sought as soon as possible and an injection will probably be given.



Large squids have been reported to be extremely aggressive, sometimes injuring fishermen. Some Giant Squids, living thousands of feet deep in the ocean, have even been believed to attack large boats.


Surgeon fish

This beautiful tropical fish is characterized by the scalpel-like spine protruding from the junction of its body and tail, which can be venomous in some species. Injuries only usually happen when the fish are handled, but they can also cause ciguatera poisoning if eaten.


Weever Fish

They burrow themselves into the sand and trap passing fish as they swim by. Unfortunately their nasty poisonous spines are also a danger to swimmers and even people paddling in shallow water. The pain can be intense and feet can swell up badly and become numb. The remedy is to soak the wound in water as hot as can be tolerated as this neutralizes the poison.


It would be foolish to avoid venturing into the sea for fear of encountering these “nasties”. Many of their stings and attacks can be avoided by taking a few precautions; wearing diving boots or similar, and gloves if you are handling poisonous creatures and being receptive to any advice given by locals, fishermen and others who know the area. If you are stung or bitten, don’t delay in seeking medical advice. Finally take time to enjoy the wonderful variety of sea life just under the surface.

Read Part 1


Author – Dee White

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