Around Australia, the stingrays roam gracefully across our oceans — but don’t be mistaken, they carry protection wherever they go. At the tips of their tails there are jagged notches, smeared with poison.
Meanwhile, a thin box-shaped jellyfish flows through our warm seas, toothless and without claws, and drags an arsenal of 60 billion poisonous stinging cells. If a person touches two meters of a tentacle, his heart may stop for several minutes.
Of course, none of these creatures are looking for trouble. In fact, there is not a single poisonous animal in the world that hunts people, says toxicologist Jamie Seymour, who was stung by the jellyfish Irukandji 11 times. Any bite, bite or blow – although potentially life-threatening – is applied only for self-defense.
“The pain is worse than you can imagine,” senior lecturer Seymour says happily. "This is 14 out of 10."
The message of animals for predators like us is clear: step on me or invade my space, and I will immerse you in the world of agony.
Here are four stories about Australians who faced toxic marine life and lived to tell this story.
And here is what needs to be done if you or some of your loved ones are not lucky to meet in this way this summer.
Box of jellyfish sting
Andrew Jones was on a family vacation on Koh Mak Island in the Gulf of Thailand at Christmas 2007. He, his wife, and two little sons swam when he came out of the water to rest. Andrei tells what followed:
“Next was my four-year-old Lewis screaming. Even now, to remember that scream gives me a chill.
“His mother swam to him, and I rushed to him. I picked it up.
“These things dangled from him, almost like cooked pasta, transparent. I ran with him back to the beach. I still did not know what it was, but I knew that I had to get rid of him. With my fingers, I grabbed one of these things and pulled it off, and the resistance was like a sticky tension. This left a big wound on his left thigh.
“But as soon as I did, he stopped screaming and immediately lost consciousness, and after a few seconds he turned blue. I checked his pulse and there was nothing. He did not breathe.
“We ran back to the bungalow, screaming for help. The woman who ran the place took the vinegar and began to pour it on Lewis's feet.
Maybe two minutes later he took a deep breath, his eyes opened unusually wide, he let out an almighty cry and wept. It was almost like a rebirth, some kind of miracle. Every expert we spoke to said that he had to die after so much poison.
“There was one taxi on this island, and it turned out that it was outside the resort. We launched it with a groan and delirium, rolling our eyes toward the medical clinic. But it was closed.
“We continued to talk with Lewis to keep him awake while the woman from the hotel called, and after 45 minutes someone came.
“They cleared his wounds, removed the remaining tentacles from their feet, eased the pain and said that he would be fine. We took him back to the bungalow, and the owner prepared a paste for us, which, as I now know, was a weak painkiller to dull the pain made from the coastal vine that grows along the beaches.
“You go far from the beaten path in search of paradise; but we are stuck there. And it could have been much worse. ”
Steph Gould made her way to Brighton Beach, in the Melbourne Gulf of Port Phillip, in 2017, when she stood on the ramp. She recalls what happened next:
“Something under my leg was elastic and spanked around a little.
“I have not seen this at all. The water was waist deep, so you couldn't see the bottom.
"I felt this pain in the back of my ankle, and my first reaction was:" I think something bit me. " We returned to the beach, and I realized that there was a cut outside [of my leg] as well as one from the inside – so that, whatever it is, it came in from the outside, came out from the other side of my Achilles tendon, and went away again.
"I remember being surprised – because, obviously, in Australia there are so many poisonous creatures – this is deadly poisonous creatures or soft poisonous creature?
Blood was dripping down my leg, and I could not walk because it went through the tendon.
“I was wondering how I can control my body in this situation? I felt the poison go up my leg. They have this poison in their tail spike, which is painfully painful if it enters the bloodstream. It was like a burning pain that seemed to paralyze me — definitely the most excruciating pain I have ever experienced.
“We went to the nearest medical clinic. Blood was dripping down my leg and I couldn’t go because it went through the tendon and I couldn’t put weight on it.
“The doctor asked me how much pain I felt on a scale from one to 10. I said 10, and he gave me a little panadol.
“In the end, they gave me one of these green whistles, and it helped a lot. While I was waiting, they actually put my foot in a bucket filled with really hot water, which is obviously intended to wash it.
“We went to a local hospital, and they did an ultrasound and found that three small pieces broke off the tail notch and were stuck in the tendon. They said they had to have surgery to remove them. I spent two nights in the hospital.
“They told me, when they looked at it, that they would have to make a larger incision on my ankle, because they had to have room for maneuver inside and pull out the pieces.” When I returned to the test after a couple of weeks, they removed the bandages … and the cut on my ankle was twice as long, and it was all in blood, and it was so terrible that I could not believe it! I did not know that it would be so big.
“In about five to six weeks I could start walking without crutches. I don't think the scar will ever completely disappear.
“In March of this year, I walked along the water on the beach in Black Rock and saw a ramp right near the shore. I thought he was back to finish me off.
Gabrielle Targettt surfed with members of her rescue club when they came ashore at Whitfords Beach in Perth in 1989. She tells what happened next:
"I jumped off [the surf ski] into the water, to a shred of algae, and felt the thorn enter my flesh under the left bone in my ankle. I thought it was a sharp stick, and ran to my boyfriend’s car.
“Then I did not know this, but the thorns on the fish-shoemaker hit my leg diagonally and broke off.
“I tied the skis on the roof when Neil (my boyfriend) saw that my leg was bleeding. I felt the punctures, but I felt something else there. I tried to rub it, but the blood flowed.
“I said I thought it was just a sharp stick, but as soon as the words left my mouth, I started to scream. Suddenly it looked like hot poker, pierced my foot. My pulse went through the roof. I couldn't move, I was sweating.
“My boyfriend has seen this before. He shouted to the others: “Gaby was standing on something, a ramp or a shoemaker! I'll take her to the hospital.
I could not control my screams. I told them: "Take off this wetsuit!"
"I lay in the backseat, and he put a towel in my mouth and said:" Bite it, you will need it. " He took me to Sir Charles Gairdner's hospital, rich, still in my new condition. wetsuit
“It was a chilling, fiery pain all over my body — my arms, my body, my head. All my nerve endings were shooting, the wetsuit was pressing on my body, and it seemed to me that he was killing me. I wouldn't let my boyfriend touch me, but he said, "I owe you inside."
“He carried me inside, screaming loudly. I was a marathon runner, I was used to overcoming the border of pain, but I could not control my screams. I told them: "Take off this wetsuit!" They said: "We have to stop this." I said I don't care.
“They kept my foot in a bucket of warm water with ammonia in it. It was like boiling water. I shouted that they tortured me, but they kept him there, saying that they should pull out the toxin. The specialist said: “She went through it. This toxin has spread through her body. Just help her with pain.
“Later it became clear that my heart palpitations, my adrenaline rush and running along the beach – all this pumped up the toxins around my body.
“They wanted to put in a morphine cannula, but I couldn't lie still.” They had to hold me and stab a morphine in my back.
“I spent the next 48 hours getting morphine and pethidine. I was hallucinating. As soon as pethidine began to fall, my body returned to freezing and fire. It was a hell on Earth.
“I was on crutches for weeks. I exploded like a fish. A week later, I went on crutches to the City to surf, to support the team I was supposed to run with. They didn't even recognize me.
“It took a month to fully recover. The smaller spike disappeared or slipped out without my knowledge. But a larger burst remained embedded throughout the year. That summer I walked a lot in the water, teaching swimming to Kotesteslo. I scratched the site and a spike suddenly surfaced. It was half a centimeter long and rather thick, like a large shard.
Alana Rowick was on a family vacation in Broome one Sunday morning in 2001, when she and her 8-year-old brother Cam felt something around their feet in the water at Cable Beach. She never forgot what happened next:
“I began to feel a burning sensation — a burning, sudden pain. I returned to the shore, and my brother followed him. We both cried; but the rescuer told us that it was just a local jellyfish.
“A lot of two to three millimeter scars — a kind of round shape, very light red in color — formed a slightly raised rash around both my legs, front and back, from mid-thigh to mid-calf.
“I remember feeling frustrated, as if it would still be painful when I returned to the university.
“After 15 minutes, I caught my breath. By the time we all reached the top of the hill, I could not breathe. I thought it was in my head, that it was just a pain, but then my younger brother started screaming that he couldn't breathe.
“Pretty quickly, I felt that my chest was crushed by a block of concrete.
“We all got into the car and drove to the hospital. The doctor said that he had never seen anything like it in Broome. He called the Perth Toxicology Hotline. This guy said it looked like what he saw in Queensland.
“In time, my brother got better. I got worse.
I spent five days in a coma while they were trying to hold fluid from my lungs, and my heart was functioning long enough for poison to poison itself.
“Everywhere there was a mess and plastic lying on the floor, they tore up the bags, trying to stabilize me and stop the pain, but nothing worked.
“This doctor in Broome saved my life; he sent me to perth. Flying doctors arrived at 6pm. I vomited throughout the entire flight. I could see that my pulse and blood pressure were bad.
“My father got a commercial flight next to me. We arrived at Sir Charles Gairdner’s hospital around 11 o'clock in the evening, but I don’t remember to come to intensive care. My heart was already hurting.
“Later, I met people who were working on my heart, and they said it looked like a drop of jelly, and a little bit below it still worked.
“The next day they told the rest of my family to fly down.
“I spent five days in a coma while they were trying to hold the fluid from my lungs, and my heart was functioning long enough to poison the poison.
“I woke up and could not see. It was dark, and I had a pipe in my throat that looked like a garden hose. I could not turn my head or raise my hands.
“Even after three months, I could get up long enough to take a shower. It took my heart a few months to recover.
“This was the first reported case of Irukandji syndrome in Washington State. The two people who were stung after me were men at the age of 50 with high blood pressure, and they both died. I was really lucky.