Being ‘barbed’ by a stingray’s tail weaponry is a painful experience. There’s the trauma from the cut and then there’s the pain, swelling and muscle cramps caused by the venom – you’ll need to get treatment but you’re unlikely to die.
In Florida there are half a dozen different types of stingray but the most likely to be of concern to humans are the Southern stingray and the Atlantic stingray. The Atlantic stingray is smaller, with a wing span of up to 2’, whilst the Southern can reach 5’. The Roughtail, also seen in these waters, get up to a healthy 7’ or more.
Whilst the stingrays you’re likely to meet off the sandy beaches of the USA, Bahamas and the Caribbean present little danger of fatality, remember that Steve Irwin, an Australian wildlife and crocodile botherer, was killed by a stingray which barbed him in the chest causing massive trauma.
The danger to humans comes from the fact that stingrays seek their prey by burying themselves under a thin layer of sand and, when the stingray’s receptors detect the movement of prey, they dart out and grab the small fish, mollusks and crustaceans on which they feed. They often hunt in shallow water where they will interface with paddling and frolicking humans.
The barbs on the stingray’s long tail are intended only as a defensive weapon and it is the defensive response that the unwitting human triggers when he steps on a stingray. To avoid this you should adopt the shuffle – shuffle your feet to disturb the sand and create vibrations which scare the stingray off before you can step on it. I’ve spooked many a stingray and watched them glide harmlessly away. Better the shuffle than the hop.
The shuffle works fine if you are walking along at the waters edge but for we small boat cruisers the most dangerous time is when you first step from the dinghy into shallow water at the beach, giving a camouflaged stingray no prior notice of your arrival. Take care.