Chondrichthyes (cartilaginous fish, including sharks, rays and chaemeras) >

Injuries from stingray stings, shark and chimaera spines

Probably far more people are stung by stingrays in southern Africa than are bitten by sharks, though there is little public concern and no anti-stingray paranoia. Most stingray wounds are not fatal although these are often painful due to the poisonous tissue surrounding the barbed, sharp-edged stings and the amount of damage caused by the injuries and by sting removal. Some dogfish sharks (family Squalidae) and chimaeras can deliver painful, non-fatal wounds with their poisonous dorsal spines.

Remember to handle all of these animals with care. Some stingrays, with their stings far back on the tail, can hit a hand or foot placed on their heads. Dogfish sharks whip their tails back and forth, and can stab you with their long second dorsal spines.

To treat stingray wounds and other spine wounds remove the spine or sting, wash the wound with water (sea water if necessary), clean the wound, taking care to remove mucous, detritus, and poisonous tissue, and soak the wound in as hot water as can be tolerated by the patient (50 C or more). Hot water destroys the venom and relieves the pain, and can be mixed with epsom salts or even common table salt for the hypertonic effect. Antitetanus agents and antibiotics should be administered by a doctor, to combat infection. Some authorities recommend that the limb of the victim be elevated while being treated.

Text by Leonard J.V. Compagno, David A. Ebert and Malcolm J. Smale


  Iziko Museums of Cape Town, 2008

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