Around Australia, stingrays sway in our oceans gracefully – but make no mistake, they bring protection wherever they go. At the end of their tails serrated spines were smeared with poison.
Meanwhile, fine box jellyfish flow through our warm ocean, toothless and clawless and trailing a warehouse containing 60 billion poisonous stinging cells. If humans are brushed by two meters of tentacles, their hearts can stop in a few minutes.
Of course, none of these creatures are looking for trouble. In fact, there is not one venomous animal in the world that preys on humans, says toxicologist Jamie Seymour, who has been stung by Irukandji jellyfish 11 times. Stinging, biting, or piercing – although potentially life-threatening – is only done in self-defense.
"The pain is worse than you can imagine," said Associate Professor Seymour cheerfully. "This is 14 out of 10."
The message of animals to predators like us is clear: stand on me or invade my space and I will put you in a world of suffering.
Here are four stories of Australians who experience toxic marine life and live to tell the story.
And this is what should be done if you, or someone near you, is lucky enough to have a similar meeting this summer.
Stinging box jellyfish
Andrew Jones was on a family vacation on the island of Koh Mak in the Gulf of Thailand during Christmas, 2007. He, his wife and two sons were swimming when he left the water to rest. Andrew tells what happened next:
"The next thing is, my four-year-old son, Lewis, shouted. Even now, remembering that scream made me cringe.
"His mother swam towards him and I darted in. I picked him up.
"He let these objects hang, almost like cooked, transparent vermicelli. I ran with him back to the beach. I still don't know what it is, but I know I have to get rid of it. With my fingers, I grabbed one of these objects and pulled it and the obstacle was like pulling Velcro. It left a large wound on his left thigh.
"But as soon as I did, he stopped shouting and immediately fainted and within seconds he turned blue. I checked his pulse and nothing. He didn't breathe.
"We ran back to the bungalow, shouting for help. The woman who runs the place gets vinegar and starts pouring it into Lewis's feet.
"Maybe two minutes later, he took a big breath and his eyes opened very wide and he screamed amazingly and began to cry. It's almost like rebirth, a kind of miracle. Every expert we spoke to said he should die after the poison.
"On this island, there is one taxi and happens to be outside the resort. We took him, groaned and delirious, eyes rolled on his head, toward the medical clinic. But it was closed.
"We continued talking to Lewis, to keep him aware while the woman from the hotel called and 45 minutes later someone came.
"They cleaned the wound and took the remaining tentacles from his leg and gave him pain and told us that he would be fine. We took him back to the bungalow and the owner made a paste which I now know is a mild analgesic for relieving pain, made from beach grapes that grow along the beach.
"You go far from a remote road looking for heaven; but we are stuck there. And that can be a lot worse. "
Steph Gould was wading on Brighton Beach, in Port Phillip Bay Melbourne, in 2017 when he stood on a stingray. He remembered what happened next:
"Something under my feet feels springy and slaps a little.
"I don't see it at all. The water is as deep as the waist so you can't see the bottom.
"I felt pain in the back of my ankle and my first reaction was," I think something is biting me. " We returned to the beach and I realized there was a wound outside [of my leg] and also one inside – so anything outside, comes out on the other side of my Achilles tendon, and pulls it out.
"I remember wondering – because obviously there are so many venomous creatures in Australia – is this a turn off poisonous creature or a rather poisonous creature?
I have blood dripping on my feet and I cannot walk because it has passed through the tendon.
"I wonder, how do I control my body in this situation? I can feel poison approaching my feet. They have this poison in the thorns of the tail which is very painful when it enters the bloodstream. It's like a burning pain that feels like paralyzing me – definitely the most painful pain I've ever felt.
"We go to the nearest medical clinic. I had blood dripping on my feet and I could not walk because it had passed through the tendon and I could not burden him.
"The doctor asked me how much my pain was on a scale of one to 10. I said 10, and he gave me some Panadol.
"Finally, they gave me one of those green whistles and that was very helpful. When I was waiting, they actually put my foot in a bucket full of really hot water which seemed to be throwing it away.
"We went to the local hospital and they did an ultrasound and found three small pieces had broken the tail spines and stuck to the tendons. They said they had to do an operation to get him out. I stayed two nights at the hospital.
"They told me when they saw it they had to make a bigger incision in my ankle because they had to have space to maneuver inside and take out the pieces. When I returned for evaluation a few weeks later, they let go of the bandage … and the wound on the side of my ankle was twice the length and everything was covered in blood and it was so terrible that I didn't believe it. ! I don't know it will be that big.
"After about five to six weeks I can start walking without a stick. I did not imagine that the scar would disappear completely.
"In March of this year, I walked along the water on the beach in Black Rock and I saw stingrays right near the beach. I thought, it was back to finish me off. "
Pierce the cobbler's fish
Gabrielle Targett surfed skiing with her rescue club members when they came to the beach off the coast of Whitfords in Perth in 1989. She told what happened next:
"I jumped [the surf ski] into the water, onto a patch of seaweed, and felt a surge into my flesh under the left bone at my ankle. I thought it was a sharp stick and ran into my boyfriend's car.
"I didn't know it at the time but the nails on the cobbler had risen inside my legs diagonally and broken.
"I tied a ski on the roof when Neil (my girlfriend) and I saw my legs bleed. I could feel stab marks but I could feel something still there. I tried rubbing it but blood flowed out.
"I said I thought it was only a sharp stick but as soon as the words came out of my mouth, I started screaming. Suddenly, it's like hot poker pushed through my legs. My heartbeat rose through the roof. I can't move, I pour sweat.
"My boyfriend has seen this before. He yells at the others, & Gaby stands on something, stingray or cobbler! I took him to the hospital. "
I can't control my scream. I told them, & # 39; Remove this wetsuits! & # 39;
"I lay in the back seat and he put a towel in my mouth and said," Bite this, you will need it. "He drove me to Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, saturated, still in my new wetsuits.
"It was pain, freezing all over my body – my arms, chest, my head. The tips of my nerves all burned, the wetsuits pressed against my body and it felt like killing me. I would not let my girlfriend touch me but he said, "I have to take you inside."
"He carried me, shouting at the top of my voice. I am a marathon runner, I am used to pushing past the limits of pain, but I cannot control my scream. I told them, & # 39; Remove this wetsuits! & # 39; They said, "We have to cut it." I said I didn't care.
"They held my feet in a bucket of warm water with ammonia in it. It feels like boiling water. I shouted that they tortured me but they held him there, saying that they had to take out the poison. A specialist said, & # 39; He passed it. This poison has spread throughout his body. Just help him with pain. "
"Then, it became clear that my high heartbeat, adrenaline and running on the beach all pumped poison throughout my body.
"They wanted to enter the cannula for morphine, but I couldn't shut up. They had to hold me back and put the morphine hit into my back.
"I spent the next 48 hours given morphine and pethidine. I am hallucinating. As soon as pethidine starts to fall, my body will freeze again and burn. That is hell on Earth.
"I wear crutches for weeks. I explode like blowfish. A week later, I showed up with my crutch to City to surf to entertain the team I was supposed to run. They don't even recognize me.
"It took a month to fully recover. Smaller spikes dissolved or detached without me noticing. But a bigger surge remains embedded for one year. I was in the water a lot that summer, teaching to swim in Cottesloe. I scratched the site and at the same time jumped out. It's half a centimeter long and thick enough, like a big splinter. "
Irukandji envenoming jellyfish
Alana Rowick was on a family vacation in Broome one Sunday morning in 2001 when she and her brother, Cam, who were 8 years old, felt something around their feet in the water off the coast of Cable Beach. He never forgets what happened next:
"I began to feel the sting – the pain that suddenly burned. I walked back to the beach and my brother followed. We both cried; but the coast guard told us that it was only a local jellyfish.
"Some holes two to three millimeters – round in shape, very pink – form a rash that is slightly raised around my legs, front and back, from the mid thigh to the mid calf.
"I remember feeling annoyed, like this it would still hurt when I returned to Uni.
"In 15 minutes, I was out of breath. By the time we all reached the top of the hill, I could not breathe. I thought it was in my head, it was just a pain but then my younger brother started shouting that he could not breathe.
"Fast enough, it began to feel like my chest was being smashed with concrete blocks.
"We all got into the car and went to the hospital. The doctor said he had never seen anything like this in Broome. He called the toxicology hotline in Perth. The person said it sounded like something he normally saw in Queensland.
"As the day progressed, my brother got better. I got worse.
I spent five days in a coma when they tried to keep the fluid from my lungs and my heart functioning long enough for the poison to go away.
"There was chaos and plastic on the floor everywhere from them tearing open packages, trying to stabilize me and stop the pain – but nothing worked.
"The doctor in Broome saved my life; he sent me to Perth. Flying Doctors arrived at 6pm. I vomited during the flight. I can see my heart rate and blood pressure are not good.
"My father got a commercial flight with me. We arrived at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital at around 11pm, but I don't remember going to intensive care. My heart has failed.
"Then, I met people who worked in my heart and they said it was like a jelly with only a few at the bottom that still functioned.
"The next day they told my entire family to fly.
"I spent five days in a coma when they tried to keep fluids from my lungs and my heart functioned long enough for the poison to go away.
"I woke up and could not see. Everything was dark, and I had a tube that felt like a garden hose in my throat. I could not turn or raise my hand.
"Even three months later, I could only stand long enough to take a shower. It took several months for my heart to recover.
"This is the first case documented by Irukandji syndrome in WA. Two people were stung after I was a man in his 50s with high blood pressure and they both died. I am very lucky. "