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Dangerous sea creatures to avoid on your next sea adventure

By DR. GRACE CAROLE BELTRAN, The Philippine STAR Published Apr 12, 2022 5:00 am

Finally, the day has arrived for our family sojourn. We’ve all had adventures out there in nature and nature has a way of enhancing stories by setting an exciting scene for our stories to take place in.

So, here is my story. Years ago we had our vacation at the northernmost reaches of the archipelago, Batanes. Upon arrival, we were met with beautifully sparkling seawater under the sun. Seeing the shore, I was so excited to go into the water. Lobsters are everywhere and other seafood as well.

We trekked along mountains and ended at Dipnaysupuan Japanese Tunnel, an interconnected network of tunnels that served as a shelter for the Japanese forces during World War II. The tunnel is open for tourists to traverse. The passageway is narrow and slippery but I was able to make it through. Many entry points have concrete above to shield the tunnel from the war bombs.

Finally, we finished our seven-day adventure and were preparing to go home. We already checked out of our hotel when a storm entered the island. Our airplane did not arrive and so we were stranded with no place to stay. Luckily, the owner of the hotel allowed us to rent her own house.

The problem was that the house was a classic Ivatan house, the roof of which is made of cogon grass. With no electricity, accompanied by howling winds and a house filled with antique furniture, it was a bit like a haunted house, just like the house where Patayin sa Sindak si Barbara, a Filipino horror film about an avenging spirit of a woman apt to kill the woman whom she suspects as the love of her husband, was filmed. With all these weather elements around us, we were like guest participants in a horror film itself. What an experience!

It’s summer and most outing destinations end up at the beach. The sea is full of fascinating and wondrous creatures, hence our love for scuba diving. Along with their beauty, however, are some aquatic organisms that can lead to scary experiences as we explore their underwater home.

Here are 10 dangerous sea creatures in the Philippines you need to avoid. Familiarize yourself with how they look, so that you could avoid them.

Titan triggerfish are usually wary of divers and snorkelers who tend to touch them due to their stunning yellow hue, but during the reproduction season the female guards its nest (in a flat sandy area). Divers should swim horizontally away from their nest rather than upwards. Bites are not venomous; however, its strong teeth can inflict serious injury that may require medical attention.

Titan triggerfish are usually wary of divers and snorkelers who tend to touch them due to their stunning yellow hue, but during the reproduction season the female guards its nest.

Stonefish is the world’s most venomous fish. It’s a close relative to scorpionfishes. Through its dorsal fin spines, the stonefish can inject a venom that is capable of killing an adult person in less than an hour. This is a medical emergency and needs to be treated at the ER. If stung, have this information ready on the way to the ER:

• Person’s age, weight, and condition

• Type of fish, if known

• Time of the sting

• Location of the sting.

Stonefish is the world’s most venomous fish. It’s a close relative to scorpionfishes.

Lionfish. Although a beautiful creature, the lionfish is a fierce predator, delivering venom to its prey. The venom on its spine is a neuromuscular toxin that’s similar to cobra venom in toxicity. Human stings are usually accidental. What to do if you get stung by a lionfish?

• Remove the spine

• Clean affected area with soap and fresh water

• Control bleeding

• Apply heat to help the venom break down

• Take pain medication

• Apply an antibiotic cream

• Use ice or a cold pack to reduce swelling

• Seek medical attention.

Lionfish are venomous, not poisonous, which means they deliver their toxin through needles, namely their spines.

Moray eels have a frightening appearance because of the “pull-back pattern” of their teeth. Indeed, bites from the fish are usually very painful. The fish also carry a toxin on the slime coat of their skin as well as the mucous found in their mouths.

One of the toxins is known to cause our red blood cells to clot; another one is found in the mucous of the fish that ruptures red blood cells. Avoidance of this eel is key.

Blue-ringed octopus lives on the sandy bottoms and coral reefs of Samal Island, Palawan, and other diving spots in the Philippines. Its bright vibrant skin makes you want to pick it up; unfortunately, that is a terrible idea. These colorful cephalopods produce tetradotoxin — a neurotoxin that is 1,000 times stronger than cyanide.

There is currently no antidote for its venom and the only way to save the victim is through CPR. A prolonged artificial respiration is often required until the effects of the venom wear off.

Blue-ringed octopus lives on the sandy bottoms and coral reefs of Samal Island, Palawan, and other diving spots in the Philippines.

Box-type jellyfish. Jellyfish season occurs usually in April and May. Encounters with them are accidental. Jellyfish stings are usually painful, but in most cases, they are mild and are not too serious. The treatment depends on the particular specie, but Box jellyfish are the most dangerous and may cause severe and potentially life-threatening effects.

When stung, remove any leftover tentacles with a dry towel. If the tentacles are difficult to remove, try coating them with shaving cream, then shaving them off with a razor or credit card. Protect your hands with gloves if possible. Apply vinegar or something with a similar ph to vinegar, such as cola soda or old wine, immediately and liberally (not for all species, though), or even seawater if vinegar is not available. Apply ice packs. For severe, life-threatening envenoming, head to the ER.

Fire coral. A coral with a bright yellow-green and brown skeletal covering that is tempting to touch. But beware: within five to 30 minutes of skin contact, a burning sensation follows. Red wheals or vesicles appear, and itching develops. Lymph gland swelling may occur over time. Rarely, nausea and vomiting have been reported. Rinse with seawater. Avoid freshwater because it will increase pain. Apply vinegar or isopropyl alcohol: this treatment can inactivate the venom. Remove any parts of the fire coral with tweezers.

Cone fish. This geographic cone is the most venomous of the 500 known species, and several human deaths have been attributed to them. There is no antivenom for a cone snail sting, and treatment is limited to merely keeping victims alive until the toxins wear off.

Ironically, among the compounds found in cone snail venom are proteins which, when isolated, have enormous potential as pain-killing drugs (10,000 times more potent than morphine without morphine’s addictive properties and side effects).

This shell looks so beautiful, yet it hides a deadly weapon that can kill you. 

Crown of thorns (COTS). Beautful but scary, COTS gets its name from its appearance. It has venomous spines all over its upper surface, which look similar to the biblical “crown of thorns.” They feed on corals causing huge destruction of coral habitats but their poison cannot kill humans.

If you happen to come across one of these creatures during a dive, remember to admire them from a safe distance, but avoid touching them to avoid the dreaded starfish sting.

Stargazer fish. The Stargazer sting is one of the most toxic to humans around the world. They have two large poisonous spines on the back of their eyelids and on their pistillate wings. Accordingly, their altered eye muscles can cause electric shocks of 50 volts. Although their poison will not kill you, it can be extremely painful and can swell locally.

Immerse in hot, non-scalding water for 30 to 90 minutes until the pain subsides. If there is bleeding, encourage this; when it stops, clean the wound thoroughly with soap and water. Apply topical antibiotic ointment to avoid infection. Do not close an open wound.