Public Safety Warning From Ozello Shrimper
Between roughly May and October of every year, Florida coastal waters become inundated with Stingrays.
Stingray's are native to Florida and arrive here in the hundreds of thousands every year. When you step into any saltwater body, you run the risk of encountering stingrays. They can be in shallow water, deep water or nearly no water at all. They can be alone, in groups or in massive swarms. Stingray's can be very small or several feet wide. They are white, brown, gold, yellow, grey, black and can come in mottled or spotted configurations.
Many people believe stingray's to be harmless because of the increase in "pet the stingray" pools in zoos and are attracted to them by their pretty colors and strange shapes. When they are not threatened, a stingray is virtually harmless but, when in danger, a stingray can be quite dangerous.
Normally benign, stingrays are no joke for shrimpers because they inhabit the very areas that we shrimp and are extremely difficult to see, even with the brightest of lights. This is because stingray's bury themselves in sandy areas just below the surface of the sand. They do this to escape predators and to wait in hiding for prey, like those lovely shrimp we catch, to show up.
When they feed, they love to search the grass flats for food. We humans are just the type of predator they are trying to avoid so normally, if they hear us coming, they get out of Dodge quickly but occasionally you may stumble upon one or several of them while shrimping.
First of all, let's lower the paranoia a little bit. A stingray is naturally afraid of you. Keep that in mind. You may be out of your element but you are still the king of the jungle as far as they are concerned. If you are standing still, they may pass by you or even rub up against you but for the most part will pay you no mind or try to stay as far away from you as possible.
It's another story when you come stomping along hunting shrimp and slam your foot on top of it. A stingray's instinct is to escape when you step on it and in order to do so, it needs to get you off of it as soon as possible. So, it attacks you in defense using a very sharp and poisonous barb hidden in the base of its tail.
The sting happens nearly instantaneously and can be excruciating. The barb has been known to penetrate leather boots, waders, dive suits and nearly all clothing including dive boots.
Some barbs are clean and smooth but many are serrated and can snap off in your leg or ankle when it strikes you. Oftentimes, the barb strikes in the Achilles heel, taking you down into the water in a matter of seconds. Recovery from these stings is painful and can take weeks or months depending on where you are struck and the severity of the injury. In rare circumstances, a stingray can be deadly.
For the record, Steve Irwin died because he was swimming directly above a large stingray when he spooked it and it stabbed him in the chest. We only use his tragic situation as an example of the level of caution that is necessary when dealing with them and to hope that his life serves as a warning and lesson to us all.
You might think that a stingray would hear you coming as you stomp along in the water but that just isn't the case. Stingray's don't hear like you and I. Instead, they sense vibration and, shaped like a welcome mat, the vibration they feel comes from the ground beneath them. So, to make sure they hear you coming and get out of your way before you get in theirs is to do the "Stingray Shuffle." It is a very simple practice that will save you a lot of pain and make sure you come home in your car instead of having a friend drive it there after you've been taken to the hospital in an ambulance. Instead of picking your feet up out of the water or off of the ground, simply slide your feet along the bottom of the ocean. It will cause enough noise to scare away the Stingray's and prevent your feet from accidentally stepping on top of a stingray.
A creative person has created this cute YouTube video that you can watch and then share with your family and friends. It makes learning the Stingray Shuffle fun and puts a little rhyme into your head so that you remember it.
There is no reason to be mortally afraid of stingrays. Whether you realized it or not, stingrays have been at every beach you have ever been to, have probably swam past you without your knowledge and are a native of Florida waters. With a little consideration for their habitat (not stepping on them), they will pose no bother. At most, you will have a story to tell your co-workers the next afternoon about that huge stingray that looked like a massive shrimp because their eyes glowed the same color.
Best of luck out on the water everyone whether you are shrimping, fishing, sunbathing or swimming in the night or day and please remember to shuffle your feet.