A distant cousin of the shark, Stingrays and other rays like skates, electric rays, guitarfishes and sawfishes are classified as Batoidea, a type of cartilaginous fish and have around 500 species in thirteen families.
They are pretty widespread and can be found in seas on the floor, across the world in both temperate and cold-water. The manta is an exception living in open waters and a few fresh water species living in brackish bays and estuaries.
Most species of rays have flat bodies that facilitate them to effectively conceal themselves in their environment which is the sea bed. Their disc like shape (in most ray species) have five ventral slot-like body openings called gill slits that lead from the gills and their mouths on the undersides. Because their eyes are on top of their bodies they cannot see their prey and use smell and electro-receptors similar to those of sharks.
There are nine known species of rays found in Hawaiian waters, divided into three distinct categories, Manta, Eagle, and Stingray. The most common stingray in Hawaii is the broad stingray, sometimes referred to as the Hawaiian, brown or whip-tail stingray pictured above.
The Hawaiian stingray has a diamond-shaped body similar to the diamond stingray. The Hawaiian stingray can grow to over 5 feet wide, but few of this size are rarely seen any more. Their tails are twice as long as their body length and are equipped with venomous spines similar to a serrated-edged knife which it uses for defense.
The most common injury from a stingray comes from accidentally stepping on one which will cause its tail to whip around and being driven into the victims leg or foot.
To avoid being stung by a stingray, use care when wading in sandy-bottomed shallow water. A good preventive measure is to do the “stingray shuffle.” Slowly slide or shuffle your feet in the sand. Any stingrays in the area are likely to retreat as fast as possible.
To treat a Stingray sting follow these simple steps:
- Immediately wash the area with fresh water.
- DO NOT remove any visible spines from the wound, leave this for trained medical personnel as the spines are barbed and may cause more damage to flesh when being removed.
- Use direct pressure with gauze pads to control bleeding.
- Soak the affected area in warm water (110°F to 113°F) for 30 to 90 minutes to denature the toxins.
- Administration of analgesia (never use aspirin in conjunction with hot water treatments).
- Watch for signs of systemic symptoms and be ready to perform CPR if necessary or treatment for anaphylactic shock.
- Transport to the hospital for evaluation and wound debridement and care.