Treating Stingray Injuries: Soaking Affected Areas in Hot Water

While encounters with stingrays are relatively rare, knowing how to effectively treat this injury is crucial for prompt pain relief and proper healing. The primary recommended treatment involves soaking the affected area in hot, fresh water. This article explores the rationale behind this treatment approach, its effectiveness, and steps to administer correctly.

Understanding Stingray Injuries:
Stingrays possess sharp, barbed stingers on their tails, which they may use in defense when threatened or inadvertently stepped on by humans. When a stingray's stinger pierces the skin, it can cause puncture wounds, injection of venom, and tissue damage, leading to pain, swelling, and occasionally secondary infection.

Why Soaking in Hot Water Works:

  1. Heat Breaks Down Stinger Venom: Heat can effectively neutralize the heat-labile venom present in stingray stings. By soaking the affected area in hot water, the venom's potency/strength can be reduced, providing relief from pain, and minimizing its spread within the body.
  2. Pain Relief: Hot water has analgesic properties, which can help alleviate the intense pain associated with stingray stings. The warmth from the water helps relax muscles, calm nerve endings, and improve blood circulation to the affected area, promoting comfort and faster healing.
  3. Prevention of Infection: Stingray injuries can introduce bacteria and other pathogens into the wound, increasing the risk of infection. Hot water can help cleanse the wound by promoting blood flow and irrigating the wound from bacteria, decreasing the likelihood of secondary infections.

Administering Hot Water Treatment:

  1. Temperature: The water should be comfortably hot but not scalding. Ideally, maintain water temperature between 104°F to 113°F.
  2. Duration: Soak the affected area in hot water for at least 30 to 90 minutes, or until the pain subsides significantly. Monitor water temperature throughout the soaking period and replenish if it cools down.
  3. Caution: Avoid using excessively hot water, as it can cause burns and exacerbate tissue damage. Additionally, individuals with decreased/impaired sensation (neuropathy, diabetes, paralysis) should exercise increased caution to prevent burns.

Seeking Medical Attention:
While hot water immersion can provide immediate relief, it's crucial to seek medical attention following a stingray injury, especially if:

  • The wound appears deep or extensive, or if there is significant bleeding that does not stop spontaneously.
  • There are signs of infection such as increased pain, redness, swelling, or discharge.
  • The individual experiences an allergic reaction (difficulty breathing, wheezing, itchy rash, nausea/vomiting).

Important Note:

Avoid applying alcohol, urine, or ammonia solution to any wound caused by marine life stings or bites. Such substances may trigger additional venom discharge, potentially worsening the condition. Removing spines/stingers should be done carefully and with appropriate personal protective equipment to prevent secondary injuries. It is crucial to seek proper medical guidance in the event of a marine life-related injury to ensure appropriate treatment and minimize complications.

Range From Humboldt Bay, California, to Peru including the Gulf of California, Mexico. More common in warmer waters, round stingrays are most abundant off southern California and northern Baja California.
Habitat Round stingrays favor shallow sandy or muddy habitats but may venture into rocky areas. They inhabit waters from intertidal zones to 15 meters deep, occasionally reaching depths of 91 meters. They gather in greater numbers near estuary mouths and shallow bays during breeding periods.
Size Round stingrays are commonly seen with a disc width of 25.4 centimeters (10 inches) or less and an average sized ray usually has a spine that is 2.5-3.8 cm (1-1.5 in) long. Maximum body length is 58 centimeters (22 inches) and disc width is 31 centimeters (12.1 inches).
Life Span 10-12 years.
Reproduction These rays are viviparous, with internal fertilization and bearing live young. Round stingrays reach sexual maturity at two and a half years of age. Breeding is most common in March and April in southern California in temperate water, but may vary depending on location and water temperature. There are one to six pups, depending upon the size of the female.
Prey Round stingrays obtain much of their food by digging in the substrate. Their diet includes worms, crabs, snails, clams and small fishes.
Predators Round stingrays are preyed on by northern elephant seals and larger fishes such as giant sea bass and sharks, especially leopard sharks.
Fishery There is not a commercial fishery for this species in California. They are caught incidentally in recreational hook and line fisheries from piers and beaches.
Area Fished Allowed statewide, mostly taken in southern California.
Fishing season Allowed year-round.
Fishing gear Not targeted but taken by hook and line recreationally.
Market(s) No significant market for round stingray exists.
Current Stock Status No formal assessment of round stingray populations has been conducted. They are listed as a species of “least concern” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Management Round stingrays are managed by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife under the general finfish regulations.

Who are the stingrays?

The stingrays are a unique group of fishes often referred to as "flattened sharks" as they are close cousins to sharks. They belong to a group known as the "batoids" and share similarities to the guitarfish, sawfishes, electric rays and skates. If you’re into this sort of thing you have to check out the Chondrichthyes: Tree of Life!
One of the key features of this group is their characteristic "caudal barb", which is located on the tail and is used for defense. The caudal "barb" or "spine" is actually a modified scale known as "dermal denticles" on sharks and rays. The barb is a unique weapon in that it not only can stick its attacker, but also can transmit a venom from the mucus coating on the barb. This can cause intense pain and throbbing – even the toughest surfer dudes have been brought to tears by stingrays.

FACT: The largest groups of round stingrays are found from southern California to the Sea of Cortez; this is likely due to ideal habitat consisting of shallow waters, fine sediment, and gentle surf (Mull et al. , 2008).

FACT: A method applied by aquariums to reduce stingray-related injury is the clipping of the caudal (tail) spine. Stingray spines are like fingernails, in that they lack nerves and grow back after a period of time. Therefore, the spine can easily be clipped without causing pain or injury to the ray (Lowe et al. , 2007).

FACT: Unlike fishes, which lay eggs, stingrays are viviparous, meaning they give birth to live young (Lyons and Lowe, 2013).

FACT: Stingrays shed and replace their caudal (tail) spines. For example, the round stingray, Urobatis halleri, and Atlantic stingray, Dasyatis sabina, exhibit yearly caudal spine replacement, with secondary spine growth occurring during the summer through fall (Lowe et al. , 2007).

FACT: Stingrays strictly sting out of defense, never as an offensive maneuver. Therefore, to avoid getting stung by accidentally stepping on a scared stingray at the beach, do the "stingray shuffle". Shuffle your feet as you walk, instead of lifting up your feet. The movement will cause the rays to scatter away (Lowe et al. , 2007).