Marine Animal Bite & Sting

Marine animals are animals which live in sea. Most of the marine animals bite or sting when disturbed. Some of them have the capacity to deliver venom through their tentacles, teeth, skin or spines. Other animals, such as sharks, are not venomous, but are dangerous nonetheless, as they can cause serious injuries from their bites using their large and sharp teeth. Marine creatures bite or sting others as defense mechanism or for hunting food.

Marine Animal Bite & Sting

Human beings suffer from marine animal stings and bites as a result of accidental contact. A person can accidentally brush against a jellyfish when swimming or could step on a stingray which is buried in the sand. Fishermen and divers are at an increased risk for stings and bites from marine animals, as they have a prolonged and frequent contact with marine life.

Serious Symptoms after Marine Animal Bite / Sting

You should seek immediate medical care if you experience the following:

Serious Symptoms after Marine Animal Bite / Sting

  • Breathing difficulties.
  • Loss of consciousness or difficulty in remaining conscious.
  • Swelling and redness around the sting region.
  • Chest pain.
  • Vomiting.
  • Spasms.
  • Severe bleeding.
  • Shock.

Different types of Marine Animals, their Bites/Stings & Symptoms

Ocean is very vast and contains many different types of creatures which have sharp teeth or stingers attached to them. However, there are only some of the marine creatures who are dangerous or are in frequent interaction with human beings. These types of marine creatures live in shallow and warm water; and these are the regions where snorkelers and swimmers are likely to encounter them. Some of the common marine animals which can come in contact with humans are:

Tentacled Marine

Marine animals which come under this category include: anemones, jellyfish and corals as all these have tentacles attached to them. Each individual tentacle is then covered with stingers, which are known as nematocysts. Jellyfish discharges these venomous stingers into their victim and also sometimes into the legs of the swimmers. Common symptoms experienced from the stings of Tentacled Marine animals include rashes and blisters. Victim can also have headaches, muscle pain, chest pain, sweating or runny nose. The stings from the Portuguese man-of-war and Australian box jellyfish are extremely fatal and can cause serious consequences.


The tails of the Stingrays contain venomous spines. If a person accidentally steps on a stingray, then it will react by pushing its tail into the foot or leg of the victim. The venom and the fragments of the spine can lead to infection of the wound. Symptoms experienced after a sting from the stingray include acute pain, weakness, nausea and fainting. Rarely the victim can have trouble breathing and can even die.

Sea Urchins

Sea urchins are marine animals whose body is entirely covered with sharp spines, which are coated with venom. If a person accidentally steps on a sea urchin, then the spines will break off and embed in the foot resulting in a painful wound. The spines need to be pulled off completely; if not, then it can cause inflammation of the wound, rashes and pain in the joints and muscles.

California Cones

These are snails which contain a venom-injecting tooth. When an individual innocently picks up a cone, these snails defend themselves by thrusting the tooth into its victim. Symptoms include numbness, swelling around the bite region, blurry vision, breathing difficulties, respiratory failure and sometimes even cardiac arrest.

Blue-Ringed Octopus

One of the most dangerous marine animals is the blue-ringed octopus of Australia. It has extremely venomous saliva which contains a neurotoxin, which after the bite, secretes into the blood stream of the victim and causes respiratory failure and paralysis. When this marine animal is disturbed, its blue rings start to pulsate, which is an indication that it is about to bite. According to research, a single blue-ringed octopus has venom which is sufficient to cause paralysis in 10 adult human beings!

Dangerous Large Fish

Sharks and barracudas are some of the dangerous fishes whose sizeable bite can be fatal and can even mutilate or kill human beings.

How to Prevent Marine Animal Bites/ Stings

Given below are some precautions to take when on a beach to avoid bites or stings from marine animals.

  • Always be on the alert and look for any signs, which warn you about dangerous marine animals, such as jellyfish etc.
  • Avoid the areas, which warn you about dangerous marine creatures.
  • Always wear protective gear/clothing when swimming or diving.
  • Keep your distance from fishing boats.
  • In case you are bleeding, then stay away from the water, as blood attracts the sharks from a long distance away.
  • If you spot a shark in the water, stay calm, do not panic, and leave the water calmly and quickly.
  • If you are wading in shallow water, then try shuffling your feet instead of walking, as this will help in preventing directly stepping on a marine animal. Also, if you shuffle, the animal can feel you coming and will get out of the way.
  • Never ever touch marine animals, even if they are dead, as their tentacles can still be poisonous.
  • Always wear shoes when out on a beach.
  • Be careful when picking up a rock or putting your hand in crevices, as these are the places where marine animals tend to lurk.

Treatment for Marine Animal Bites/ Stings

There are different treatments for different types of bite/ sting of a marine animal. Some of the general rules after a sting /bite from a marine animal are:

  • Do not move the victim as any movement can spread the poison.
  • Consult your doctor before administering medications on your own.
  • Rinse the wound with salt water only, as fresh water aggravates the nematocysts to shoot more venom.
  • Wear gloves when removing a stinger.
  • Use clean tweezers to remove any remaining stings or tentacles.
  • If you do not have tweezers, then edges of a credit card can also be used to remove the stingers.
  • Wipe off any stray tentacles with a clean towel.
  • If you do not have first aid kit, then ask the life guard at the beach, they usually will have it.

Treatment for Stingrays Sting

  • If there are any fragments of the stinger embedded under the skin, then flush them out with salt water.
  • If a solitary spine is lodged in sensitive regions, such as neck, chest or stomach, then do not try to remove them on your own and immediately go to emergency ward for removing them.
  • If there is heavy bleeding from the wound, then apply direct pressure on it to stop the bleeding.
  • The doctor might give the patient tetanus shot depending on the immunity status.
  • Antibiotics are prescribed for infection.
  • Stitches will be given if needed.
  • The affected body part should be kept elevated for some days to alleviate swelling.
  • Painkillers such as acetaminophen and paracetamol are given for pain relief.
  • Lactocalamine lotion can be applied to the sting region to soothe the sting.
  • Ice/cold application can be done after the tentacles/stings have been removed.

Treatment for Sea Urchins Sting

  • In case of sting from a sea urchin, pour some vinegar on the affected region as it is helpful in dissolving the sea urchin spines.
  • In case the spines are deeply embedded into the skin, then do not try to remove them on your own and leave it to a medical professional for removing them.
  • Soaking the affected body part in warm salt water helps in alleviating pain.

Treatment for Jellyfish Sting

  • Use salt water to flush out the stings.
  • Wear gloves and use a pair of tweezers to remove the fragment of the tentacles.
  • Pour some Vinegar on the affected region, as this will help in halting the release of the venom from a box jellyfish tentacle; however, vinegar can worsen the man-of-war sting.
  • If you are not sure what has bitten or stung the victim, then one should seek medical help immediately.

Prognosis of Marine Animal Bite/Sting

The prognosis is quite good, as only a few of the marine animals bites/stings are deadly. Dangerous marine animals include sharks, box jellyfish, blue-ringed octopus and others. Majority of the bites from marine animals are not life threatening albeit irritating. However, it is advised to get prompt medical care after any bite or sting.

Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:March 15, 2019

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