How to get barbed by a Sting Ray
This is our accident report from an event that happen to us not long ago. The best intention in the world can sometime lead to bad results. We hope that you can learn from this report.
What happened on our Night Dive at Hall Bank?
Hall Bank is one of our favourite dive spots for a night dive and just a short 20min boat cruise from Fremantle. A great spot for spotting Wobbegong, lionfish, cuttlefish, octopus and of course rays. With a full boat all pumped and eager to dive we were soon gearing up and splitting the divers into 2 groups to give us all a bit of space for the night dive. Instructor Kate was with a group of 4 divers and within the first 5 minutes we saw beautiful corals and were lucky to have great visibility. Kate spotted a small smooth ray and signalled to her divers to show them. Turning her back to look at something else, Kate then checked to see if her divers were still behind her. One of the divers on board (lets call them Bob) had discovered that the ray had a fishing hook in its mouth and was attached to fishing line. There was some wrestling going on trying to free the ray from the line. Before Kate had much time to react, she looked down at Bob and realised that the stingray has shot off its barb into Bobs arm, through the wetsuit.
What happened next?
After signalling to Bob if they were OK, it was time to surface. Reaching for Bob’s inflator hose to make a slow ascent, we headed up to the surface with the rest of the buddy teams. ‘Are you ok Bob’? Kate determined Bob was ok on the surface and towed the diver, with ray still attached at this point. After almost reaching the boat, we made contact with the skipper, Antoni and let him know we will be needing some assistance. Removing Bobs dive gear (lucky Bob had easy dive gear to remove) we got Bob on board to assess the situation, lying them in the recovery position. Normally when a stingray shoots off there barb, the ray is not still attached so it was something a little more unusual.
After Antoni assessed the situation and called 000, it was time to call back all the divers. In the tender revving the engines 3 times, we got all the divers up from there dive and let them know what was going on. Keeping everyone calm, doing a roll call and making sure they weren’t to worry when they saw Bob and the ray lying on the deck. Off we went back to Fremantle to get Bob off to Hospital.
What to do if this happens to you?
Firstly try not to panick! Luckily for us in this situation, Bob was quite relaxed about it and was more worries about the ray. In this situation, the ray was still attached and luckily we were not too far away from Fremantle. On the boat ride back, we had the diver in recovery position and reassured them everything was ok. The ambulance notified us to leave the barb in the arm and get them to East street Jetty, where Bob will be transferred to hospital.
After discussion with a doctor, we were advised “for the next time” to cut the wetsuit off and assess the bleeding and the barb. The barb was on the fore arm and we were suggested to see if it would have been possible to remove it gently. If you do so remember than the barb as tooth to stay inside the flesh, make sure it is not deeper than a few millimetres and removing is not causing more bleeding. The longer the barb stayed the more chance you got to have an infection.
Should you touch marine life?
As a rule of thumb, do not touch anything underwater. During a Night Dive, you got to manage your torch, your camera and if you try to cut a line you are handling a knife. It is far too much even for an experience diver. Keep it simple.
Bob was only trying to help the ray by removing the fishing line from its mouth and in return suffered for it. We must take care and have a no touch approach as it could lead to bigger problems. Some fish and sea creatures have barbs, poison, venom and use this in self defence. If you see a sea creature with line in its mouth, leave it in as over time it will eventually grow out and be fine with it. Rays in particular have a crazy ability to regrow part of their body and as shark they will expel a hook from their flesh.