Stingrays really do look like something otherworldly. Seeing schools of them swimming together looks like a scene from a science fiction fantasy film of dreamy angel aliens defying gravity in a galaxy far away.
Nevertheless, these creatures have a bad reputation among sailors and fishermen because of the painful sting they can deliver with their barbed poisonous stinger. Despite their bad reputation stingrays are extremely docile and gentle creatures.
Instances of attacks are rare and are not the result of an aggressive stingray actively attacking humans but rather a startled animal with an involuntary reflex.
Today I will teach you how to avoid being stung by a stingray, if stingray attacks are common or not, what to do in case you are stung, and if stingrays are really dangerous or not.
How To Actually Avoid Being Stung By A Stingray
So the months of May through October are when beachgoers along both, the east and west coast need to be extra careful.
During these months stingrays will start to come into, and settle, in shallow water by the shore in preparation for the ensuing mating season.
This is the time when the majority of attacks occur. It is so common in fact that the way to prevent them even has its own name: “the stingray shuffle”.
This is quite a simple operation, as you’re entering the water don’t just walk as you normally would but instead start quickly shuffling your feet in a front and back or side-to-side motion.
These movements are effective because stingrays will normally rest half-hidden under the sand and they won’t feel you coming which results in you accidentally stepping on a sleeping stingray that will immediately turn into a startled stingray.
Remember I told you that stings are the result of an involuntary reflex?
When startled or threatened these creatures will quickly flick their stinger upwards stinging the unsuspecting beachgoer that just accidentally stepped on it.
What the “stingray shuffle” does is that it creates vibrations that will let stingrays know that larger animals are near and it’s time to swim away.
These animals are extremely shy and non-aggressive and will always swim away instead of attacking if given the chance.
If you are diving or snorkeling you should avoid swimming too close to the floor as it is easy to miss a half-buried stingray that could feel threatened by your sudden presence and flick its stinger toward you.
This scenario is actually more dangerous as you could end up being stung in the abdomen, chest, or neck and those are the areas that pose a life-threatening risk due to the important organs and veins that will end up affected.
Needless to say, don’t ever try to grab or pick up a stingray. If you happen to be snorkeling or diving and come across these phantom-like animals just enjoy the experience as they will not come to attack you as long as you leave them alone.
Are Stingrays Dangerous To Be Around?
Since the definition of “dangerous” is “able or likely to cause harm or injury” and stingrays have venomous barbed stingers that pack an extremely painful sting the obvious answer would be yes, stingrays are dangerous.
However, when you take into account the docile nature of these animals and the fact that there have only been 17 deaths worldwide caused by stingrays EVER there is no reason to fear them.
These deaths were the result of freak accidents due to human error, not an angry unprovoked animal.
Stingrays will never purposefully attack a human, they’re shy animals who will always choose to retreat if feeling uncomfortable instead of engaging in confrontation.
And if you were to get accidentally stung your chances of recovering completely are very very high.
What Do You Do If A Stingray Touches You?
If a stingray touches you but doesn’t sting you there is absolutely nothing to worry about as their skin is not harmful or toxic in any way. It is actually very common to touch stingrays during the tourist swim with stingrays attractions offered throughout the Caribbean.
This doesn’t mean you should try to touch a wild stingray if you were to come across one, remember they will only attack when feeling threatened.
Are Stingray Barbs Deadly?
So I already told you that there have only been 17 deaths because of a stingray attack, one of those was actually the untimely death of world-famous Steve Irwin, aka the crocodile hunter, which happened in 2006 after he was accidentally stung by one while filming.
However, what killed Steve Irwin, as well as the other unlucky fatal victims, weren’t the barbs themselves or even the venom as it is very painful but not deadly.
The cause of death has been massive internal trauma due to the stinger penetrating either the chest, abdomen, or neck.
So no, stingray barbs are not deadly. Penetrating a vital organ or vein with a sharp object is.
Is Being Stung By A Stingray Common?
The fact that there have only been 17 deaths related to stingray injuries doesn’t mean there haven’t been non-fatal attacks. In fact, there are between 1,500 – 2,000 reported attacks in the US every year.
If you think that’s a lot, you should know that there are about 4.5 million reports of dog attacks in the US yearly with 800,000 of those needing medical attention.
Also when you think of the fact that according to The United States Lifesaving Association there are over 400 million beachgoers every year you will quickly realize that your chances of being stung by one are very low.
You have between 0,000375 – 0,0005% chances of being stung by a stingray so it is safe to say it is very uncommon.
Unfortunately, the bad reputation of these odd creatures goes way back! In Greek mythology, you will actually find the story of Odysseus who was accidentally killed by his son Telegonus when he stabbed him with the spine of a stingray.
This negative perception has been further enforced by fishermen who tend to get stung when untangling stingrays who get accidentally caught in their fishing lines and thus think of them as gnarly animals.
Fortunately, aquatic tours to swim with stingrays are getting increasingly popular which has been changing the perception the general public has of these animals for the better. And if you read this far I hope your perception was changed as well.
I am a lover of everything nature and animal related with over 15 years of experience in the field of wildlife rescue and education. Currently living in Colombia working with wild and domestic animals and spending all my free time writing about them 🙂