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Marine Animal Injuries

The sea is filled with creatures that may appear harmless, but some are capable of wounding, poisoning or even killing an unlucky swimmer or diver. In the event of a marine animal injury, identification of the animal responsible is helpful. However, symptoms may not appear until hours after the contact, or the animal may not have been seen or recognized at the time of the injury.The sea is filled with creatures that may appear harmless, but some are capable of wounding, poisoning or even killing an unlucky swimmer or diver. Despite the extreme rarity of serious shark attacks, the shark is the most well known of marine perils. Far more common — but less well known — are tiny animals armed with both defensive and offensive weapons that are potent enough to cause human injury. The best protection against such injuries is a healthy respect for these animals. When in doubt, keep your distance.

Most marine animal injuries are the result of a chance encounter (such as swimming inadvertently into a jellyfish) or a defensive maneuver by the animal (such as a stingray wound). Injuries are rarely due to aggressive action on the animal's part. Marine animals are generally harmless unless they're either deliberately or accidentally threatened or disturbed. When wounds do occur, they share many common characteristics, though they differ in type and severity. Such wounds are nearly always contaminated with bacteria, frequently with foreign bodies, and occasionally with venom.

Swimmers and divers concerned about marine animal injuries can lessen their risk of an adverse encounter by showing respect for the undersea environment and knowing the damage that humans can do — and have done — to living marine organisms. Most divers are now aware of these issues and use personal diving techniques that respect the sea and its living creatures. "Look, but don't touch" is the most conservative and considerate approach.

In the event of a marine animal injury, identification of the animal responsible is helpful. However, symptoms may not appear until hours after the contact, or the animal may not have been seen or recognized at the time of the injury. As a result, treatment must frequently be based on the presentation of the injury, with limited information as to its cause. Careful examination of the characteristics of the wound may indicate the most likely cause.

Prevention: Avoiding contact with marine animals is key; this sounds simple, but it may not be if you have poor buoyancy control and/or have poor visibility, are in a confined area, are experiencing currents, or are coping with other environmental limitations. Here are some tips to minimize your chance of a hazardous encounter (or simply one that might damage the environment):
* Do not attempt to handle, tease, feed or annoy any marine animal.
* Do not explore a crevice with your hand; that can promote a reaction by a concealed animal that then tries to defend itself.
* Strive to develop excellent buoyancy control and remain aware of what surrounds you.
* Do not allow a current to force you against a fixed object; it may be covered with marine animals.
* Wear protective clothing.
* Make an effort to find out which animals you may encounter during your dive and learn about their characteristics and habitats before you begin the dive. This will help you enjoy your dive more and prevent possible injury from the animals you encounter.

There are several excellent publications that cover in detail both the identification of marine life hazardous to swimmers and divers and the management of injuries that may follow encounters with such animals; learn more about hazardous marine life published by DAN. Your ability to recognize and identify animals commonly encountered at your destinations will add to the pleasure of your trips and help you avoid those animals capable of inflicting harm.

These are other useful guides:
* A Medical Guide to Hazardous Marine Life, 3rd edition; by Paul S. Auerbach; Best Publishing Company, 1997
* Medicine for the Outdoors, 6th edition; by Paul S. Auerbach; Saunders, 2015
* Wilderness Medicine: Management of Wilderness and Environmental Emergencies, 4th edition; by Paul S. Auerbach; Mosby, 2001
* Dangerous Marine Creatures; by Carl Edmonds; Best Publishing Company, 1995
* "Marine Animal Injuries" by Carl Edmonds, pages 287-318 in Diving Medicine, 4th edition, by Alfred A. Bove and Jefferson Davis; Saunders, 2004
* Pisces Guide to Venomous and Toxic Marine Life of the World, by Patricia Cunningham and Paul Goetz; Pisces Books, 1996


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