How to Prevent Stingray Injuries on South Carolina Beaches

This is a bushy-tailed stingray as seen from a NOAA remote-controlled vehicle in 2015.

NOAA photo

Have you been to a beach in South Carolina recently?

Maybe you walked right past a stingray and didn’t even realize it.

If you enjoy spending time in the surf, be observant. A day at the beach won’t be as fun if it ends in the hospital.

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A school of migrating rays reached a mile long just off Hilton Head Island. Collins Doughtie

As you, your loved ones, or even nearby children play in the shallow surf or walk through the ever-changing tides, many beachgoers generally don’t think about what might be lurking just inches away in ankle-deep water.

Stingrays, which can injure hundreds of people in one area each year, can be a common culprit of beach injuries in shallow water that may require a hospital visit.

They can be found along the coast in the spring and throughout the summer as weather and water temperatures continue to rise.

Without taking the proper precautions, locals and tourists alike can easily find themselves on their way to the hospital with a stingray injury, even after walking in just a few inches of deep water.

Two stingrays swim in a shallow pool at IMMS in Gulfport. A new addition opening in the coming months will allow visitors to get much closer to marine life. Tim Isbel [email protected]

But even in the busy summer months, when the water is full of locals, it’s still entirely possible to have an injury-free day at the beach.

Here’s what you need to know about stingrays along South Carolina beaches.

What are they and what types of stingrays are common along the coast?

There are many different species of stingrays found along the beaches of South Carolina.

Fortunately, if you watch where you step, stingrays are not that difficult to spot, as they stand out from other fish you might see nearby. You can see them swimming in the shallow water, near a jetty, or being hauled in by local fishermen from the surrounding waters.

Phillip Ladner of Waveland poses with his 149-pound, 9-ounce stingray at the Mississippi Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo at Barksdale Pavilion in Gulfport on Tuesday, July 4, 2017. John Fitzhugh [email protected]

Stingrays can vary greatly in size, ranging from a few centimeters to several meters in length and weighing hundreds of kilos.

They are bottom-dwelling cartilaginous fish, meaning they are made of cartilage rather than bone, and they have wide, flat bodies. Stingrays also have tails equipped with one to three venomous barbed spine blades that release painful toxins.

These poisonous toxins cause severe pain when injected into a victim.

Due to their lack of bones, stingrays are closely related to sharks.

Some species of rays found along the South Carolina coast include: southern stingray, snub-nosed stingray, shaggy-tailed stingray, spotted eagle, smooth butterfly, cownose, bullnose and Atlantic rays.

Jeff Amlotte Los Angeles Times/MCT

Can you prevent a stingray injury?

Fortunately, stingrays will not “attack” a human unless they feel threatened by you.

However, this unfortunate circumstance can easily happen by accident when a stingray becomes scared after being accidentally stepped on while you, a family member, or an excited child are frolicking through the ocean surf.

Two people were injured by stingrays while in ankle-deep water off Daytona Beach, Florida officials said. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip) DAVID J. PHILLIP ASSOCIATED PRESS

Because stingrays are not aggressive and will not attack unless they feel threatened, it is important to remember that stingrays camouflage themselves in shallow sand and that stings can be avoided by ‘shuffling’ through the sand rather than taking steps or hitting rocks or throw shells forward. of your steps, Hilton Head Hospital detailed in previous Island Packet reporting.

To avoid injury-related accidents, no matter how shallow the water, always make sure you shuffle or drag your feet through the sand, rather than lifting your feet by stomping, bouncing or walking normally. Taking this preventative measure is the most effective way to avoid accidental injury from a stingray.

This shuffle, commonly called the stingray shuffle, alerts a nearby stingray to your impending approach and proximity.

Stingrays similar to those at the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas in New Orleans in 2005 injured a record 73 people Friday at Huntington Beach in Southern California. Stehan Savoia The Associated Press File

Once it has noticed your location and mobility, a stingray will likely be scared off and choose to swim away; thereby avoiding the need to protect oneself.

Additionally, wearing water shoes can double your protection against being accidentally stung by a stingray or even stepping on unknown objects or ocean litter, which can also cause many injuries.

What to do if you are injured by a stingray

“Approximately 1,500 to 2,000 stingray injuries are reported each year in the U.S.,” says the National Capital Poison Center.

When a stingray decides to take action, the sting wound is often deep and considered dirty, meaning there is a high risk of infection. It is important to wash and disinfect the area immediately.

If you or someone you are with has been stung, it is important to seek medical attention as soon as possible. If this is not possible, rinse the wound with fresh water, followed by immersing the wound in hot water, approximately 110-115 Fahrenheit, to destroy the toxin. In addition, you should try to remove the remaining stings with disinfected tweezers.

After the barbs are removed, you need to clean the wound. If the bleeding continues, make sure to apply pressure until it stops. Then apply antibiotic ointment or cream to the wound and cover it with gauze, changing the dressing as necessary, Hilton Head Hospital said in previous Island Packet reporting. If the wound continues to worsen, seek medical attention.

If the infected person is impaled, have them attempt to obtain a tetanus vaccine or booster if necessary, and the wound should be carefully inspected for any remaining spines. Medical evaluation and treatment from a hospital is necessary if there are still spines in the wound, if the puncture is deep or if it involves the chest, abdomen or neck areas, according to Poison Control.

Stingray stings almost all occur on an individual’s feet and lower legs. Although such an injury is painful, it is not considered life-threatening.

However, if a stab to the neck, abdomen or chest were to occur, it would be considered a medical emergency and treated as such. In addition, excessive bleeding or signs of anaphylaxis, which would have symptoms such as difficulty breathing, dizziness, abdominal pain, fast or irregular heartbeat, would be considered a medical emergency and 911 should be called as soon as possible. It is always important to have a plan in case an emergency arises and to remain as calm as possible. If you are ever in doubt and unsure of what to do, call 911 because there are resources to help you in your time of need, Hilton Head Hospital continued.

Death from a stingray puncture is rare and is not the result of the venom, but rather the puncture wound itself. This would be the case if the barb injury was in the chest, abdomen or neck. There have also been reported cases of death from serious infections such as tetanus, documented by Poison Control.

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Sarah Claire McDonald is a journalism reporter for The Island Packet and Beaufort Gazette. She specializes in writing audience-oriented, unique spotlight stories about people, places and events in the Low Country. Originally from the Midwest, Sarah Claire studied news media, communications and English at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, graduating in 2021.

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