Home About AllHealth Website Sitemap Contact Us
All Health 
You are here: Home > Children's Health > Teens (13 to 17) > marine animal sting or bite


marine animal sting or bite

A sting or bite from any form of marine life, especially salt-water dwellers, may cause this injury.

Any person who is swimming or wading in salt water has a chance of getting a bite or sting from a marine animal.

What are the signs and symptoms of the injury? 
The most common signs and symptoms of a marine animal sting or bite are: Less common symptoms that may occur include: What are the causes and risks of the injury? 
Injury can be caused by bites or stings from many types of marine life, including a:
  • jellyfish
  • Portuguese man of war
  • stingray
  • blue ring octopus
  • stonefish
  • scorpion fish
  • catfish
  • sea urchin
  • sea anemone
  • hydroid
  • moray eel
  • shark
  • electric eel
What can be done to prevent the injury? 
There are many ways to prevent getting a marine animal sting or bite. A person should:
  • wear protective clothing or water shoes
  • not run into the water or dive in head-first
  • supervise children when they enter the water
  • splash or shuffle the feet when entering the water to ward off stingrays
  • not touch unfamiliar marine animals no matter how attractive they are
  • not swim with open wounds
  • not wear bright, shiny clothing, jewellery, or equipment while swimming
It is safest to swim at patrolled beaches. If an injury does occur despite precautions, a lifeguard or ranger will be able to help.

How is the injury recognised? 
Sudden pain is usually the first sign of a marine animal bite or sting. A swimmer may notice a jellyfish floating nearby, or feel a stingray or sea urchin beneath the foot.

What are the treatments for the injury? 
Treatment varies depending on what caused the injury.

Jellyfish, man of war, and anemones have tentacles that stick to the skin. These should be removed. If possible, alcohol or vinegar should first be poured over the tentacles to inactivate the stinging cells, or nematocysts. Once inactivated, the tentacles should be gently lifted from the skin. The sting site should then be washed with soap and water. Afterward, a hydrocortisone cream may be applied to the skin.

The venom of stonefish, catfish, stingrays, and sea urchins produce severe pain at the bite site. Because the venom is a protein that is broken down quickly by heat, the wound area should be immersed in water as hot as can be tolerated. The area should be left in the hot water for 60 to 90 minutes. Pieces of spines or fins are often left broken inside the skin during the sting. The person should remove these with a gloved hand. If they are unable to remove them, they should have a doctor remove them with an instrument. The wound should be cleansed well with soap and water, and an antibiotic ointment applied.

Sharks, moray eels can injure the skin with their teeth. These animals do not have venom or poison. The wound should be cleansed with soap and water, and may need sutures, or stitches.

A person should seek medical care after a marine bite or sting. The wound needs to be examined to be sure that it is free of debris. A person may be given:
  • a tetanus booster if he or she has not had one within the last 5 years
  • antibiotics to prevent infection
Pain can usually be controlled with paracetamol or ibuprofen. Sometimes stronger analgesia is required.

What are the side effects of the treatments? 
A tetanus Injection may cause tenderness at the injection site.

Antibiotics may cause: Pain relievers may cause stomach upset.

What happens after treatment for the injury? 
The injured person may feel pain for many hours after the sting or bite.

The wound should be watched closely for signs of infection. Signs of infection include redness, swelling, drainage at the site, and a fever. These signs should be reported to a doctor.

Usually there are no long-term effects after a marine bite or sting. Occasionally a marine bite can cause death, especially with a Portuguese man of war bite.

Author: Gail Hendrickson, RN, BS
Reviewer: HealthAnswers Australia Medical Review Panel
Editor: Dr David Taylor, Chief Medical Officer HealthAnswers Australia
Last Updated: 1/10/2001
Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request

This website and article is not a substitute for independent professional advice. Nothing contained in this website is intended to be used as medical advice and it is not intended to be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes or as a substitute for your own health professional's advice.  All Health and any associated parties do not accept any liability for any injury, loss or damage incurred by use of or reliance on the information.

Back Email a Friend View Printable Version Bookmark This Page


eknowhow | The World's Best Websites
    Privacy Policy and Disclaimer