Stingray injuries are like pain concentrate.
Have you ever been stung by a stingray? If not, let me help you understand what it feels like:
- Imagine someone coming down on your foot with an axe – over and over again.
- Imagine someone taking a chainsaw to your foot – for an hour.
- It is about the maximum pain a man can stand without crying.
- The pain made me feel grateful that The Crocodile Hunter, Steve Irwin, died quickly. Knowing he was pierced through the heart by a ray barb, I cannot imagine the pure suffering he would have endured had he left the barb in, with his heart pumping that venom throughout his bloodstream. I would not wish this experience on my worst enemy.
- I’d like to find a woman whose both been in a painful labor and been stung by a stingray – as I would wager the stingray injury would be infinitely worse.
The stingray is like Alien: It has a developed the most perfect defense mechanism it could over millions of years of evolution.
I think I’ve painted a vivid picture of what it feels like to be stung.
The only thing that works to help a stingray injury:
If you’ve been injured by a stingray, the only thing thing that will help reduce the pain is submerging your foot in the hottest water you can stand without burning your skin – for an hour or more.
It is thought that heat breaks down the protein molecule found in the venom. From experience, I know this is the only thing that works to alleviate the intense pain. The relief you experience after putting your foot in hot water is nearly instant, and it takes away about 50%-75% of the pain.
When I get stung, I also preemptively scrub the injury (despite the pain being near unbearable) with a betadine scrub pad. I do this before, during and after my hot water soak.
After the soak, I keep the wound covered in Neosporin and bandaged. I also preemptively start taking specific antibiotics I was prescribed by my doctor.
I’d highly advise you see a doctor too. If a portion of the barb is in your skin, it will not come out by itself, and this can become a huge problem if left untreated.
I am the “proud” recipient of four stingray injuries.
I have been “stung” by stingrays no less than four times.
It’s worth noting that there are lifeguards who have run through the surf every day of their lives for 40 years and have never been stung.
I guess I’m just lucky.
I have a theory that stingray populations are on the rise, and with them, stingray injuries. Unfortunately, I do not believe data exists on stingray injury numbers. Lifeguards in California only track injuries in two categories: major or minor injuries.
Shuffle your feet, they said.
I was shuffling my feet 3 out of 4 of those times.
I know of no evidence or scientific literature that shows shuffling your feet actually deters stingray injuries.
There should be some scientific research performed in this area.
My foot is 3x the size it should be…
The third time I was stung, an acute cellulitis infection required me to be hospitalized for a night.
My foot swelled to 3 times it’s normal size, and required a few rounds of some very gnarly intravenous antibiotics.
Then outrageous hospital bills that went far above and beyond my insurance started arriving!
Hmm… maybe I should protect my feet:
Far less from being “smart”, it took me 3 stingray injuries to realize, maybe I should protect my feet.
So I decided to start wearing wetsuit booties in the water. I figured that it would help reduce any injury by providing an extra layer of protection.
I kid you not: The very next time I was in the water, I took 2 “steps” (I was shuffling) after getting off my surfboard, when I felt the razor-blade slice – right through the bootie.
Taking it to the next level:
Since I love the ocean and I’m not going to be staying out of the water, I decided that I needed 2 things to reduce the probability of future stingray injuries: A protective guard, and a deterrent.
They already make stingray “boots”, but these are stiff and not pliable enough to be used by surfers… They are made for fisherman that wade in stingray-populated rivers.
I’ve started using wetsuit booties with the thickest reinforced rubber possible… in my case, it involved an old pair of Hotline booties.
Complete protection: Puncture-proof material
Wouldn’t it be great if there was a material that was scientifically proven to be 100% effective at protecting against stingray barbs?
In 2013, graduate students from Cal State Long Beach studied 10 different puncture-resistant fabrics to determine which material would be most effective at preventing stingray injury as a surf bootie lining. You can read the abstract for this study, here: What Material Is Best for Lining the Inside of a Surf Bootie to Prevent Foot Penetration from a Stingray Barb?
Great! Now to buy a sock made of this material that would go on the inside of a surf bootie!
Unfortunately, they do not make this product at this time.
But, if you want to get an idea of just how effective this material is at preventing puncture wounds, watch this video:
I knew that stingrays share some biology with sharks: Namely the electroreceptors (called “ampullae of Lorenzini”) that sharks use to locate food.
I recalled a recent episode on The Discovery Channel’s Shark Week about how they were successfully using magnets to deter sharks:
I thought, Let’s glue some magnets to the booties!
After some research, I found out that N52 rare-earth magnets are some of the strongest grade magnets available, so I ordered some.
Strong indeed! They’re actually somewhat difficult to get apart from each other.
At first, I tried gluing the magnets on with a hot-glue gun.
The bond didn’t hold very well, and most of the magnets fell off after first use.
Then I tried with Gorilla Glue, which worked to hold them on securely – at first.
(Over time, all of the glued magnets ended up falling off. Were I to do this again now, I would take the booties/magnets to a repair shop, and have someone there put patches like these over the magnets and secure them onto the booties.)
I got all excited and thought Wow! I should patent this!
It turns out that this exact patent was awarded in 2016 to inventor Michael Bobzien.
At the present time I have not seen a single pair of stingray-resistant booties on the market from any of the major surf companies.
This is a shame, as this feature could be easily implemented into the design of existing wetsuit booties. I would think they would sell like hotcakes to anyone who has ever been hit by a stingray. If a surf company was able to get exclusive licensing of the patent from Bobzien, I think they’d make a mint.
Then again, the surf companies are a little behind the times – they still don’t even take seriously the idea of surfing sunglasses.
A day late and a dollar short, I realized I wasn’t going to make a gadzillion dollars from the painful patent process, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t experiment with the idea for my own protection.
So… do they work?
I want to be clear about something:
I do not know if this method works or not to deter stingrays.
This would require scientific testing, and it’s material rife for any grad students in marine biology that are looking for a thesis topic.
The evidence that they do work is anecdotal, and nothing but a theory at this point.
Bobzien has some videos on YouTube that seem to indicate the theory is promising:
So just remember: This is an experimental technology based on a theory.
Again, I don’t know if it they actually work or not.
When I first wore my new magnetized shoes in the water, I wasn’t hit by a stingray. This was nice, but it’s a far cry from saying they actually work.
Off the top of my head, here are a few factors that need study and evidence to clarify efficacy:
- What is the approximate diameter of the magnetic field created by the five N52 magnets glued to my booties?
- What is the effective diameter the stingray can detect this field (and is “repelled” by it)?
- What is the behavior of the stingray once it detects the magnetic field: Fight or flight? In other words: Do the magnets deter injury or encourage it?
- Does the magnetic field created warrant avoidance or attraction behavior from other animals – such as sharks? This is now on my mind when I’m past the break!
I’m simply going off a theory based on anecdotal evidence… so if you decide to try this at home, that’s on you. I’m not liable for what may or may not happen to you!