Sunday, August 05, 2007

Flat Sharks At Camp

Look before you leap.

It is ... or was, Shark Week, so this might be a good time to discuss the flat sharks that circled the Gulf camp each day.

Rays = flat sharks.

Here's a bit of nerdiness for those of you who just gotta have it.

Sharks are vertebrates like you. Humans, (a complex land dwelling shark descendent) have classified sharks into Class Chondrichthyes. Members of this group include the sharky-lookin' sharks, rays, skates, sawfishes, and some oddball deepwater relatives called chimera.

If you are in Class Chondrichthyes, you probably have a skeleton of cartilage, gill slits, no swim bladder, an oily liver, placoid scales ... toothlike scales, claspers for mating if you are a boy fish, replaceable teeth, and fins that are supported by cartilage and not fin rays.

We spent a lot of time in the water, far from shore, so you might think sharks would be a concern. The truth is we did not see the first sharky lookin' shark the whole time. I'm not sure that is a good thing, there should have been bonnetheads at least. If this had been Cedar Key waters, we would have certainly seen some of these small hammerhead cousins.

It kind of bugs me that we didn't.

A typical "flat shark".

The picture above is a southern stingray. It's just a juvie, the adults get ginormous with much larger stingers. This one was snagged in the "wing" by Tyler as he was fishing and he brought it up on the deck so I could photo it for you. The fish was not harmed except for a neat pinhole in his wing. (Ladies and men with piercings, you can relate)

Stingrays are defenseless except for their stinger and an ability to hide in the bottom mud. The stinger is a hardened spike of cartilage, serrated on each side and ending in a sharp point. It would hurt by itself, but the whole thing is coated with a poisonous slime.

When threatened by a hammerhead shark (big ray predator) or a misplaced human foot, the ray whips the tail around so the spike is driven into the offender.

Here again, I can share personal experience. When I was 17, I stepped on a stingray while gigging (spearing) flounder late at night in Salt Run. It was a smallish ray, but she still had enough power to drive the stinger through the sides of my Keds and into the side flesh of my foot.

It honestly hurt more than cutting my finger off (search under stupid things I have done ...sigh).

The first pain you feel is the initial poke and then an intense burning ache develops. Standard first aid treatment is heat, as in a hot pack. Nobody (at least not me) knew that back in 1975.

I remember biting down on the wooden handle of the fish gig immediately after the hit, just hoping it would subside. When the waves of pain dropped to a dull ache, I floundered a little longer, but I eventually called it an early night ... normally I'd go until dawn.

The intense pain was short term, but the wound stayed sore for over a month. I was taking a karate class at the time and I remember sitting cross-legged on the dojo floor was murder if I put my weight on the edge of that foot. Ouch!

That's me about to release this very cooperative ray. I'm not sticking my fingers in it's eyes, it just looks like it. Rays have extra breathing openings called spiracles near the eye so they can breathe on the bottom.

My crew on the dock was shouting advice and criticism as I grabbed the ray to release it.

"Are you crazy?"

"Just push it in with a pole"

"You're going to get stung"

Irritated by the barrage of scaredy cat advice, I said, " Has anybody else here been stung by a ray? No? Okay then ..."

To which teenager Jonathon replied, " Um, doesn't that mean that we're smarter ..."

Don't you hate it when they're right?

For the record, both the ray and I left the encounter with no serious injury.


threecollie said...

What a truly amazing week! It is great to share it vicariously!

Cathy S. said...

My youngest went kayaking in the bay yesterday. He really misses that Virginia white water, and for the first time, found his well loved route through the mangroves boring. But, he was impressed with the huge sting ray he saw glide under his boat. Wait till I tell him it was really a shark. That should liven up the Florida waters a bit.

pablo said...

ray v. ray?

Doug Taron said...

Great series of posts from fish camp. I've been out in the desert all week, so I read them all at one sitting. The storms sounded spectacular, nd the writing is vivid. Thanks for the series of posts.

Thunder Dave said...

That information is all well and good, but what do they taste like?

Laura said...

"...doesn't that mean we're smarter..."
oh boy, what a comeback. That one had me laughing out loud.

I've never had a sting from one of these, and they're always warning us about it locally. From the way you describe it, I think I'll start being a lot more careful when I'm down on the beach!

Wren said...

I've never encountered a ray in the wild. I have seen, touched, and swam with less aggressive and less painful rays - manta rays, I think, though I'm a little fuzzy on the details after all this time. Touching them was like touching velvet. Fascinating creatures.

Floridacracker said...

I hope y'all are not sick of the camp tales... I have a few more posts :)

Cathy S,
After white water, I guess our slow water does seem a little dull to a young man.

'mond v. ray

The desert! Cool! The ocean is sometimes called the blue desert, but not for us, plenty of rain.

Conventional wisdom says scallops.
I love shark, so I hope it's more like that, but in truth, I do not kill rays.

This crew had me laughing most of the trip ... so smart and wacky.
As for ray stings, it would be a great idea to pick up a hot pack to toss in your boat first aid stash.

We see them so often in the Gulf that it's like seeing a mockingbird or a jay, hohum ...
It's good to see them tho, cause if you don't, you might step on 'em.

lori said...

is the sting of the ray,like a jellyfish sting?? If so could you, would you treat it the same?? Pee on it to relieve some to of the pain????
sound and looks like you had a wonderful time!!
and i have to agree the new banner is awsome!!!

Floridacracker said...

No, it's about a bazillion times worse. Those hot pack bags that you punch to mix the chemicals inside and start them heating up are the thing to have. Then, a good cleaning and peroxiding of the wound. I didn't go to the doc, but a lot of people do.

Hey, don't pee on a jellyfish sting. Take some vinegar to the beach in a spray bottle. Much more pleasant and it works best of anything.
Thanks for the kind words about the banner!

OldHorsetailSnake said...

Seems to me that, once, Steve Irwin said something like "No problem...."

Floridacracker said...


Cathy S. said...

My youngest knew that they were sharks. They are so much smarter than me. And he wanted me to tell you that he did not say it was boring, but tame.

Cathy said...

Well. Tell you what. I want a do-over. My life is so d-u-l-l .

A splinter from a floor board is an hour's anxiety attack for me. Can't imagine handling creatures with stabbing devices attached.

And that storm? Ho boy.

But you're loving it.

I want a do-over.

(enjoyed the primer on chondrichthyes - honest)

Thunder Dave said...

Aha, the old "Plug and sell to the Yankee's as scallops" ploy eh! I'm pretty sure the lobster I ate last weekend was real though, or else they went to a lot of trouble on that fake shell too! ;-)

Floridacracker said...

Cathy S,
I am relieved to be wrong. It would be sad if he thought a mangrove forest boring :)

If we're doing do-overs, I want to learn to play the acoustic guitar. I am musically stupid.

I have almost perfected my pseudochitin formula and will be franchising it soon.

vicki said...

I'm about to put on my Steve Irwin jacket and head up to the zoo (Rich says too soon, stay home and rest! but I'm on polar bears today, one of my favorites)-but I'm glad I stopped by first. When in Florida, hanging over the side of the Friendship Pedestrian Bridge between Tampa and St. Pete is one of my favorite things- watching the schools of "flat sharks." In the water they look like a ballet; here on the dock with your fingers poking their eyes out they look pretty interesting. Giant spotted rays in the Caribbean are my favorites. And yes, children of a certain age always have the right answer. Always.

Floridacracker said...

I'm glad you feel well enough to resume docenting.
The big mating congregations of rays are very ballet-like when they swim by.

I'm not poking his eyes out ... as a matter of fact the ray clan has poked me ... I think the score is Rays 1, Me 0.
Datil seeds go in the mail today.

Meems said...

i hope being stung by rays doesn't have anything to do with smarts or the lack of them. it has happened to me three - i know sounds impossible but yes, three times... all as an adult too. (i grew up here- i know you are supposed to shuffle your feet)

first sting: we were on vacation at one of the keys (actually i think it was little gasparilla island) near charlotte county. we had to take a ferry to get on and off the island- no cars on the island. i was playing with my kids riding some waves on a particularly rough water day. my foot came down very hard on the ray that whipped his stinger up above my ankle. NO ONE knew how to help me in my pain... that i would describe as wishing i could cut my foot off which would not be as intensely painful as that poison. worse than having a baby because there is NO relief. long story short - we actually ferried off the island then drove 40 miles to the nearest hospital - where they did nothing for me until of course i filled out droves of paperwork. finally, their highfalutin medical prescription was to place my foot in a bucket of very warm (as warm as i could stand) water. it was quite the experience and talk about feeling silly.

the next two times (more rambling necessary to tell the stories and i'll spare you) at least i didn't incur any medical bills because i knew what to do ---although the pain was just as intense.

so you can imagine--i'm not a big fan of any kind of ray- but i liked your story and all your stories of the camp. great family fun.

Sharon said...

Yikes, sounds like something I never want to find out about! The occasional jellyfish is enough for me.

Cathy S. said...

Oh, boring was my word. You heard me right. I just didn't hear him right. :0)

Floridacracker said...

Three times. You win!

I'll take jellyfish anyday over ray.

Cathy S,
Been there, done that :)

Leslie said...

You poked that sting ray in the EYES!!!
Ouch ouch ouch ouch ouc....

Rurality said...

I hope I never have to feel your pain. :)

I was taking a karate class in 1975 too. (Cue Twilight Zone music...)