Recent comments by readers â€œGonzoâ€ and â€œApicioâ€ regarding the freak accident that resulted in the death of conservationist Steve Irwin, otherwise known as the â€œCrocodile Hunter,â€ on Australiaâ€™s Barrier Reef, prompted me to dig up this file photo of a blue spotted stingray and write this post. My older brother is a certifiable fish who has optional gills and he has spent more time under the water than most amphibians but I was not as thrilled with the idea of exploring the coral reefs (moray eels, lion fish, poisonous coral) attached to an explosive canister of oxygen. I figured if I ainâ€™t got gills, I wasnâ€™t meant to go much further down than 10-12 feet underwater, the depth of the deepest swimming pool. But this recent sting ray â€œaccidentâ€ occurred in very shallow water while Mr. Irwin was filming a segment for a children’s program and so my concept of the worst happening only in the dark unkown is now completely obliterated. Mr. Irwin was apparently snorkeling in the shallow waters off the Barrier reef and while over a sandy bottom, inadvertently â€œcorneredâ€ a stingray that was in the sand. The natural reaction of a stingray is to rapidly raise its tail which has some venomous spines or barbs (that look like a small sharp saw, locally referred to as binsol) that can, on a RARE occasion, result in death. These spines apparently punctured Mr. Irwinâ€™s chest, which is the most vulnerable part of a humanâ€™s body. It resulted in his death. He will be missed by his many fans.
All rays in the ocean are characterized by a flat body that resembles a kite and they have five large gills on their underside. Manta Rays are the enormous, gorgeous, majestic rays that have flaps that extend out the front of its body. They are typically black I think. Stingrays (of which there are many more varieties, over a half dozen in the Philippines), can be much smaller though extend to huge sizes as well and are rather common across Philippine waters. I took the photo above of the blue spotted stingray at a market in Bohol last March. They are eaten in many coastal towns, in fact. A third type of ray is an eagle ray which has a head resembling an eagle, hence its unusual name. Rays tend to rest on sandy bottoms, sometimes in shallow waters so the risk of stepping on them is quite high, however, fatal injuries are quite unusual. For the benefit of readers, I quote here a warning about the venomous spines from a book by Gerry Allen called â€œMarine Fishes of Southeast Asiaâ€ on page 48:
â€œMany rays â€¦. are characterized by one or more venomous spines on the tail. Stings inflicted by these spines are extremely painful and fatalities have occurred when either heart, abdomen, or lungs were badly perforated. â€¦ If a ray is stepped on it has the ability to thrust its tail upward and forward impaling the victim with incredible speed. Pain is immediate and intenseâ€¦â€ Yipes. Be careful. As beautiful as they are left to their own devices, if I must interact with these in future, Iâ€™ll take my rays dried in the form of shagreen (ray leather) instead (like Apicio) or well-done in a dish with gata (coconut milk)!