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Marine Critters To Remember

Salt water has been and continues to be a strong lure for people. Annually, millions of residents and visitors head to the coast to enjoy a few days at the beach or some salt water fishing.

Like any other segment of the outdoors, the marine world has some organisms that are better to avoid or at least handle with extreme when you're on these animal's home turf. None of the marine critters that you're likely to encounter Florida are out there waiting for you, the unsuspecting victim, to get close enough so they can attack. The problems arise when these organisms try to defend themselves from what they perceive as a danger of unknown origin.


Jellyfish are marine invertebrates that cause problems for swimmers and surf anglers. Their nearly transparent tentacles contains thousands of stinging cells that erupt on contact and release a microscopic thread laced with a toxin.

The Portuguese man-of-war, a relative of the jellyfish, is actually a colony of animals living together and sharing a common gas-filled float. It's tentacles can be more than 10 feet long and each is armed with thousands of stinging cell. The bluish to pinkish float is a distinguishing mark for this potentially dangerous organism.

Under the right conditions, the wind may blow jellyfish and Man-of Wars into the surf zone and onto the shore. As the waves slosh the animals around, pieces of the tentacles break off and can sting people in the water. Also, curious kids and adults may pick one up that's washed onto the beach and be stung.

When stinging jellyfish or Man-of-Wars show up along the beach, it is usually newsworthy enough to merit coverage by the local media. At this point, staying out of the water is the only sure way to prevent being stung. If you are stung, an anti itch lotion will help relieve the discomfort of the painful stings.


Anyone who walks in the surf zone along the coast needs to know about stingrays. Some species inhabit the shallow waters commonly used by anglers and swimmers. The sting from a stingray comes from a serrated edged barb at the base of the fish's tail.

People are stung when they accidentally step on a stingray. It is the fish's way of protecting itself from what it considers a threat. The best way to avoid being stung is to shuffle your feet rather than taking normal steps. Shuffling increases the chances that, if a sting ray is in the area, you will only bump into the edge of the animal. That usually sends the stingray scurrying off to a safer place rather than initiating a defensive response. Wearing a pair of old sneakers when walking through shallow waters, is also a good idea especially if you're surf fishing.

The puncture wound stingrays inflict is painful, causes swelling at the wound site and often becomes infected. Because of the high probability of an infection, if you are stung, seek medical attention.


The sting from this fish is a problem for anglers who catch either the common Florida saltwater catfish or - the sea catfish (sometimes called the hardhead) or the gafftopsail catfish. both species have poisonous barbed spines in their dorsal (top) and pectoral (side) fins.

Anglers are susceptible to stings from these fish when trying to remove the hook from a fish they've caught. It usually occurs when you try to grab the fish and it slips from your grasp as it thrashes. There are also many documented cases of stings to the feet resulting when anglers try to step on the fish in order to stop the thrashing so they can remove the hook. The barbs are very rigid and can easily penetrate the sole of a sneaker.

Catfish stings must be carefully monitored. If swelling, redness or tenderness develops, consult a physician.

by Kris Thoemke

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