FISH THAT ATTACK MAN
The shark is usually the first fish that comes to
mind when considering fish that attack man. Other fish also fall in this
category, such as the barracuda, the moray eel, and the piranha.
Sharks are potentially the most dangerous fish
that attack people. The obvious danger of sharks is that they are capable of
seriously maiming or killing you with their bite. Of the many shark species,
only a relative few are dangerous. Of these, four species are responsible for
most cases of shark attacks on humans. These are the white, tiger, hammerhead,
and blue sharks. There are also records of attacks by ground, gray nurse, and
mako sharks. See Figure F-1 for illustrations of sharks.
Avoid sharks if at all possible. Follow the
procedures discussed in Chapter 16 to defend yourself against a shark attack.
Sharks vary in size, but there is no relationship
between the size of the shark and likelihood of attack. Even the smaller sharks
can be dangerous, especially when they are traveling in schools.
If bitten by a shark, the most important measure
for you to take is to stop the bleeding quickly. Blood in the water attracts
sharks. Get yourself or the victim into a raft or to shore as soon as possible.
If in the water, form a circle around the victim (if not alone), and stop the
bleeding with a tourniquet.
Other Ferocious Fish
In salt water, other ferocious fish include the
barracuda, sea bass, and moray eel (Figure F-2). The sea
bass is usually an open water fish. It is dangerous due to its large size. It
can remove large pieces of flesh from a human. Barracudas and moray eels have
been known to attack man and inflict vicious bites. Be careful of these two
species when near reefs and in shallow water. Moray eels are very aggressive
In fresh water, piranha are the only
significantly dangerous fish. They are inhabitants of the tropics and are
restricted to northern South America. These fish are fairly small, about 5 to
7.5 centimeters, but they have very large teeth and travel in large schools.
They can devour a 135-kilogram hog in minutes.
VENOMOUS FISH AND INVERTEBRATES
There are several species of venomous fish and
invertebrates, all of which live in salt water. All of these are capable of
injecting poisonous venom through spines located in their fins, tentacles, or
bites. Their venoms cause intense pain and are potentially fatal. If injured by
one of these fish or invertebrates, treat the injury as for snakebite.
Stingrays inhabit shallow water, especially in
the tropics and in temperate regions as well. All have a distinctive ray shape
but coloration may make them hard to spot unless they are swimming. The
venomous, barbed spines in their tails can cause severe or fatal injury.
Rabbitfish are found predominantly on the reefs
in the Pacific and Indian oceans. They average about 30 centimeters long and
have very sharp spines in their fins. The spines are venomous and can inflict
Scorpion fish or zebra fish
Scorpion fish live mainly in the reefs in the
Pacific and Indian oceans. They vary from 30 to 90 centimeters long, are usually
reddish in coloration, and have long wavy fins and spines. They inflict an
intensely painful sting.
The siganus fish is small, about 10 to 15
centimeters long, and looks much like a small tuna. It has venemous spines in
its dorsal and ventral fins. These spines can inflict painful stings.
Stonefish are found in the tropical waters of the
Pacific and Indian oceans. Averaging about 30 centimeters in length, their
subdued colors and lumpy shape provide them with exceptional camoflauge. When
stepped on, the fins in the dorsal spine inflict an extremely painful and
sometimes fatal wound.
Tang or surgeonfish
Tang or surgeonfish average 20 to 25 centimeters
in length, with a deep body, small mouth, and bright coloration. They have
needlelike spines on the side of the tail that cause extremely painful wounds.
This fish is found in all tropical waters.
Toadfish are found in the tropical waters off the
coasts of South and Central America. They are between 17.5 and 25 centimeters
long and have a dull color and large mouths. They bury themselves in the sand
and may be easily stepped on. They have very sharp, extremely poisonous spines
on the dorsal fin (back).
The weever fish is a tropical fish that is fairly
slim and about 30 centimeters long. All its fins have venomous spines that cause
a painful wound.
This small octopus is usually found on the Great
Barrier Reef off eastern Australia. It is grayish-white with iridescent blue
ringlike markings. This octopus usually will not bite unless stepped on or
handled. Its bite s extremely poisonous and frequently lethal.
Although it resembles a jellyfish, the Portuguese
man-of-war is actually a colony of sea animals. Mainly found in tropical
regions, the Gulf stream current can carry it as far as Europe. It is also found
as far south as Australia. The floating portion of the man-of-war may be as
small as 15 centimeters, but the tentacles can reach 12 meters in length. These
tentacles inflict a painful and incapacitating sting, but the sting is rarely
These cone-shaped shells have smooth, colorful
mottling and long, narrow openings in the base of the shell. They live under
rocks, in crevices and coral reefs, and along rocky shores and protected bays in
tropical areas. All have tiny teeth that are similar to hypodermic needles. They
can inject an extremely poisonous venom that acts very swiftly, causing acute
pain, swelling, paralysis, blindness, and possible death within hours. Avoid
handling all cone shells.
These shells are found in both temperate and
tropical waters. They are similar to cone shells but much thinner and longer.
They poison in the same way as cone shells, but their venom is not as poisonous.
FISH WITH TOXIC
There are no simple rules to tell edible fish
from those with poisonous flesh. The most common toxic fish are shown in Figure
8-2. All of these fish contain various types of poisonous substances or
toxins in their flesh and are dangerous to eat. They have the following common
- Most live in shallow water around reefs or
- Many have boxy or round bodies with hard
shell-like skins covered with bony plates or spines. They have small
parrotlike mouths, small gills, and small or absent belly fins. Their names
suggest their shape.
In addition to the above fish
and their characteristics, barracuda and red snapper fish may carry ciguatera, a
toxin that accumulates in the systems of fish that feed on tropical marine
Without specific local information, take the
- Be very careful with fish taken from normally
shallow lagoons with sandy or broken coral bottoms. Reef-feeding species
predominate and some may be poisonous.
- Avoid poisonous fish on the leeward side of an
island. This area of shallow water consists of patches of living corals
mixed with open spaces and may extend seaward for some distance. Many
different types of fish inhabit these shallow waters, some of which are
- Do not eat fish caught in any area where the
water is unnaturally discolored. This may be indicative of plankton that
cause various types of toxicity in plankton-feeding fish.
- Try fishing on the windward side or in deep
passages leading from the open sea to the lagoon, but be careful of currents
and waves. Live coral reefs drop off sharply into deep water and form a
dividing line between the suspected fish of the shallows and the desirable
deep-water species. Deepwater fish are usually not poisonous. You can
catch the various toxic fish even in deep water. Discard all suspected
reef fish, whether caught on the ocean or the reef side.