Whenever visiting Florida or any area bordering the Gulf of Mexico, it is not uncommon to encounter a stingray, a mildly dangerous sea creature. Chances are that if you are bathing in the ocean, it is highly likely that you will see a stingray in any of these areas.
Poisonous sea creatures such as stingrays like to hang out in the underwater areas very close to the shoreline, or right where the dry beach sand meets the water line, regardless of the sea level. Stingrays are typically medium to dark brown in color; some people refer to them as “sand-colored” in hue, which surely helps them to camouflage in shallow waters. They average about 6 inches in body width, give or take a few increments, and are quite flat from top to bottom. When they reach maturity, they can get to be fairly long, especially when one measures their stinger and attached tail.
To be fair, this species of poisonous sea life is a type of mildly dangerous sea creature. Even so, the stingers from this unique category of fish can be very harmful to humans and scientists have found them to sometimes paralyze the small fish that they prey upon for food. According to the Sherpa Guides, a sting from a stingray is fatal enough to stop the heart of a small dog. Stingrays aren’t as deadly in most cases to humans but people with heart or respiratory problems should be particularly alert and careful when swimming or wading in the Gulf of Mexico beaches.
The thought of getting stung by a stingray is definitely scary and if it actually does happen, can be extremely painful. Fortunately, though, despite the many warnings you might hear during your travels along the Gulf of Mexico, stingrays are what you might call down to earth, easygoing creatures. More specifically, these so called dangerous sea creatures are not by nature aggressive. And even more specifically, to get to the point everyone really wants to know, stingrays for the most part only sting humans by accident. They rarely just attack.
It would be extremely rare to hear of a stingray aggressively dodging out of its secret hiding spot just below the sand on the bottom of the shallow part of the beach shore to strike a human being with its poisonous stinger. This just doesn’t happen. Stingrays, while indeed part of the loosely defined group known as potentially scary, poisonous sea life, do not always fit perfectly and always into the similar but more foreboding and intimidating category known as dangerous sea creatures.
It is not unlikely though that you’ve heard contradictory opinions and so called facts about the Gulf of Mexico and Florida area waters and the level of safety one should feel when swimming within close proximity of a stingray or two. Many people who have been either misinformed and/or who do not have much experience or exposure to stingrays and their behavioral trends under the waters of their natural habitat in the Gulf of Mexico very often advertise these interesting aquatic creatures as being antagonistic and audacious in nature, while usually blowing out of proportion the “deadly” effects of the sting.
Often times the people who so exaggerate the facts about these generally passive and easygoing fish have the best intentions, most commonly being the goal to promote safety and awareness with the assumption that scaring people away from the water altogether is better than having a beach full of wounds to tend to because people didn’t read the signs instructing how to avoid an encounter with the resident stingrays.
This makes sense in some aspects but the beaches and its sand and water components alike should be enjoyed and appreciated as a beautiful wonder of nature where one can feel free and relaxed and indulge in a little sun bathing or Frisbee throwing, swimming, etc. So it is daunting to hear of incidents where beach authorities or lifeguards use fear tactics to educate beach visitors about the stingrays. Because yes, sting incidents surely occur but ask any Floridian you know to give you a ratio comparing the number of times they’ve swum in the Gulf of Mexico or at Siesta Key Beach to the number of times they had a dangerous encounter with one of these stingrays, or “dangerous sea creatures.” The answers will speak for themselves.
The truth is stingrays simply don’t care as much as much as you might imagine that humans are in the water with them. They don’t even see humans as a major threat to their territory. It is unknown why or how they sort of subconsciously know this about humans, but it is obvious and you will likely agree if you should ever encounter one that they feel comfortable coexisting with their human friends and fellow lovers of the sea.
They just are a calm sea life group of species who enjoy spending most of their time in these shallow areas resting. And it just so happens that the shallow areas see the most human action: Waders, snorkelers, kids, and that one guy of about 80 years in age that you notice shows up every day to wade through the edge of the water line with his metal detector searching for hours on end for some piece of vintage jewelry or something made out of pure gold. You know himout of nosiness, you always look as he bends down so you can see the object he’s picking up to examine but often (and sadly), the object in question looks more like a dime or penny or is maybe just an old unusable Canadian coin.
These types of beach enthusiasts who prefer to play close to shore are right there, with sometimes loud noises from children or adult groups who’ve had a bit to drink, thunderous trampling steps in and out and around the ocean while playing games of some sort, and splashing of the water in every which way, end up unintentionally (and often unknowingly) lingering perfectly within and surrounding the ideal stingray hotspot, or their favorite place to, you know, sit and “veg”.
So what happens then, is that even though these beach goers don’t antagonize the stingrays or give them an intentional reason to be aggressive, the noise these kids, adults and families make while entering the ocean, and the disturbance of the calm water and the charging, heavy, sometimes fast and careless way they trudge through the sand on the waters floor tends to put the stingrays on their guard. It has been said that younger stingrays are a bit more reactionary and defensive-aggressive toward humans than the older ones simply due to a lack of exposure to this human interruption of their habitats.
But really, in more cases than not, stingrays only sting people by accident, in self-defense of themselves and their territory. Which coincides with the fact that most who do get stung by stingrays either accidentally step on the creature, who in turn gets scared and attacks with stinger defense mechanism, or they run into one who is trying to scurry away from the human activity and whatever is stirring the water in their habitat.
This last example can be related to something as unintentional for both parties as a traffic jam between two cars passing through a busy intersection. The stingray wants to get out of your way. But unfortunately sometimes by coincidence alone, the stingray will choose the wrong route of exit and instead of fleeing to both of your respective safe areas of the water, there his is accidentally of course, slamming right into you.
If you live or have spent time on the beaches of the Gulf of Mexico or any other shorelines where stingrays or poisonous sea life animals are abundant, you very likely can recall seeing signs or warnings that indicate a strong presence of stingrays in the water and a recommendation to use something called the “Stingray Shuffle” for protection and safety.
The Stingray Shuffle is really quite easy to learn and after about 5 shuffle steps I can almost guarantee you’ll be a Stingray Shuffle master. The strategy that works in many, but it should be noted not all, cases to prevent stingrays, dangerous sea creatures from attacking you, consists of just what the name implies. A shuffle sort of step in which you very lightly disrupt the sand below your feet as you walk. The sand that whirls around in the water below as well as the water movement on the surface sends an alert to stingrays that another person or creature is coming their way.
If the Stingray Shuffle is used almost constantly while in shallow waters especially it really is quite effective. As stated before, stingrays, though yes, dangerous sea creatures, can more appropriately be described really as just friendly sea creatures that enjoy their sunny and surely cozy spots near the shore burrowing beneath the sand. They don’t mind you joining them for a bit to celebrate the beautiful waters of the Gulf of Mexico but well, they just want a little heads up. Otherwise, again, they may fear you are a predator and by natural reaction, strike you with a sting full of their venom which will most likely require medical attention and will probably discombobulate the details and overall “vibe” if you will, of the rest of your day at the beach or for some, several days of vacation time to follow.
If the worst case scenario occurs though and you do in fact get stung by a stingray, seek medical attention from a nearby lifeguard or EMS located near beach concession stands or wherever real life seems to start back up again as you walk further on the beach toward the parking lot area and away from the water. It should be easy to find and all public beaches with supervision have either ambulance services on site to assist with certain mishaps such as stingray poisonous sea life attacks, or otherwise make themselves easily accessible to any lifeguards who can call them to get further help treating your stingray sting wound.
And it should give you relief to know that very few people die from these types of minor stingray accidental attacks but nevertheless, you are best off finding a doctor or licensed paramedic to tend to the wound immediately. Some people do react to the poison the sting emits more intensely than others.