Tuesday, April 28, 2015

5 Most Dangerous Marine Animals on the Gulf Coast

When the Purple "Dangerous Marine Life" Flag waves on Gulf Coast beaches, swimmers know to avoid the waters at risk of harm. But what exactly are these dangerous ocean-faring animals that ruin a perfectly sunny day of gentle water play? Find out more about the culprits behind the Purple Beach warning flag, and the best ways to avoid injury from these sea creatures during your Gulf Coast beach vacation.

Heading to Orange Beach, Alabama for a beach vacation? Visit the Islands of Perdido Pass for a day of aquatic fun! Head to Orange Beach Islands to learn more!


Sharks


most dangerous shark in the gulf of mexico
Bull Shark Swimming in Shallow Waters
Sharks inhabit both shallow and deep waters across the Gulf Coast. Bays, bayous, and the Gulf itself are home to lots of different species of Shark. The most common types of Shark found in Gulf waters include the Bull Shark, Thresher Shark, Nurse Shark, Hammerhead Shark, White Tip Shark, Black Tip Shark, and Mako Shark. Though most sharks reach large sizes and are capable of inflicting harm, not all of them are a cause for concern during your family beach day. Many, including the Nurse Shark, are considered mostly harmless, and other species like the Thresher are rarely found in shallow waters. Although life guards typically hoist the Flag when any shark approaches the beach, the most aggressive sharks to watch out for in the Gulf of Mexico are Bulls, Makos, and White Tips.

How To Avoid a Shark Bite

Scenes from the JAWS film series may have been shot in Destin, FL, but while the most fearsome creature in the ocean does call the Gulf Coast home, don't expect a shark bite on your beach vacation. According to Sharkattackfile.info, in 2014, 34 Shark attacks were documented in the entire state of Florida, with zero deaths. While sharks are some of the largest and most aggressive animals found in the waters of the Gulf, most attacks are provoked, even if the swimmer doesn't know it!

Here are some tips for preventing a shark attack while swimming in the Gulf of Mexico:

Obey Posted Flags:
As is with any marine life on this list, don't ignore the posted warnings!  Purple Flags and/or Red "Beach Closure" Flags can both mean sharks have been spotted in the area, and the water is unsafe. But don't fret, sharks will leave once they've stuffed themselves on fish, turtles, birds, crab, and jellyfish.

Avoid Brackish Waters:
Sharks love to hunt in cloudy or brackish waters. If you cannot see the shark, they probably can't see you, and will likely mistake your foot for a tasty mullet. Even shallow waters can contain a perfectly disguised shark, so don't count on your fin-spotting skills to avoid a shark attack.

Wading with Fishing Bait:
Multiple shark attacks on the Gulf Coast have been caused by accidentally feeding a shark! Sharks can smell prey from far away, and won't pass up an easy meal of living or dead finger mullet, shrimp, or calamari. If wading in the water for a better cast, try to keep the bait floating at a good distance attached by a tether, or better yet, in a bucket on the beach; never keep bait in pockets.

Also, stringing up the days catch and attaching the stringer to a body part (typically leg or waist) is a common practice while surf fishing, but can put the fisherman in the middle of a shark feeding frenzy. This method of fishing HAS caused prior shark attacks, some resulting in deadly bites. It is recommended to store your catch in a cooler (either floating or on the beach), or try the old fisherman's trick of burying your fish in the sand.

Don't Look like Prey:
how to avoid a shark bite
Shark Near Surfer
Sharks hunt mostly based on smell and extra-sensory functions. A shark's eyesight is considered to be as good as a standard human, but with far-sightedness (and an animalistic drive to feed) an accepted excuse for many attacks. Basically, sharks make mistakes just like us! Attacks have been documented with a hungry shark latching onto a metallic bracelet or necklace, confusing the accessory with a moving bait fish. Other attacks have a man-eater knocking over a kayak, surf board, or boogie board, expecting to bite into a sea bird or seal. These are instinctual attacks, and can be prevented with a little planning.

Be sure to remove all metalic or "flashy" accessories before entering the water. When on an exposed flotation device like a boogie board, try to remain in shallower water, and if possible avoid splashing wildly or flailing limbs.

*Visit Tripshock.com for Emerald Coast Shark Fishing

Sting Rays


sting ray sting gulf coast
Southern Stingray in the Gulf of Mexico
A less aggressive but equally dangerous marine animal on found in the Gulf of Mexico is a sting ray. Dozens of different species of rays are found in the Gulf of Mexico, but the most commonly encountered are the Cownose Ray, Southern Stingray, and the Atlantic Stingray. Stingrays defend from predators by striking with a poison stinger fixed to the tail. A stinger sting causes pain, swelling, and muscle cramps, and if left untreated, serious injury or death. Though Stingrays can inflict massive injury, they are mostly peaceful creatures, and typically only attack when stepped on or harassed.

How to Avoid Stingray Sting

Stingray stings are easy to avoid. The first step in avoiding a sting is to avoid stepping on a camouflaged Ray. There are two simple ways to Stingray-proof your Gulf Coast swim, the first being to shuffle your feet when walking through ocean or bay waters. Stingrays enjoy hiding just under a layer of sand, making it hard to detect their presence until it's too late! Another easy way to avoid a sting is to throw an object (rock, handful of sand, etc), into an area of water you wish to swim in. Stingrays are very sensitive to surface sounds and will likely take off at the first sign of humans.

Alligators


alligators in gulf coast waters
American Alligators on the Gulf Coast
Typically found in bayous, rivers, and small ponds, Alligators sometimes appear on Gulf beaches or in swimming pools! During your stay on the Gulf Coast, don't be surprised to run across a gator or two, and with a few quick hints it'll be easy to avoid a bite from a gator's massive jaws! The American Alligator can mature up to 14 feet long and 1,000 pounds, and with an average lifespan of 30 years, has plenty of time to eat it's fill of snakes, fish, turtles, birds, small lizards, and other Alligators! Alligators are an ancient species, with ancestors dating back millions of years, and still sporting the same ferocious teeth, jaws, and scaly skin as today's modern alligators.

How to Avoid An Alligator Bite

The bite of an Alligator is strong enough to crack a Snapper Turtle Shell, giving it one of the strongest jaws in the animal kingdom. It is very uncommon for an Alligator to be found on the beach or in the Gulf of Mexico, but it has happened before, so be sure to keep a lookout and obey all posted flags when visiting the beach. Most of the time, Gators are found in bayous, swamps, ponds, and small lakes containing brackish or fresh water. The easiest way to spot an Alligator is by looking out for a gator sunbathing on the shore, or a Gator head poking out from the water.

How to Escape an Aggressive Alligator:
When crossing path's with a Gator, always keep your cool; sudden movements may entice the animal to attack. Although Alligators are known to sport a mean sprint, they cannot keep up high speeds over long distances. If ever chased by a Gator (which is very unlikely on land), escaping on foot shouldn't be a problem, but if you can't seem to shake the beast, try running in zig zags to confuse it!

Gulf Fish


Besides Sharks and Stingrays, there are a few fish you won't want to meet on your Gulf Coast vacation! The following three fish rarely attack, but are capable of inflicting painful stings, bites, and can even be dangerous when eaten.

Hardhead Catfish

poisonous catfish
Hardhead Catfish in the Gulf of Mexico
The Hardhead Catfish, like it's relative the Gafftopsail Catfish, is extremely prevalent in Gulf Coast waters. From Texas to Miami, this bottom-feeder species of Catfish is found in every body of water both pure salt and brackish. Hardhead Catfish are not aggressive, but send thousands to the emergency room every year with painful symptoms and temporary paralysis associated with a sting from one of their poisonous barbs!

The Hardhead Catfish is an opportunistic species, eating anything and everything in it's path. They can survive for long lengths out of the water, and have thick and slimy flesh and poisonous stingers to protect from predators including Sharks and Alligator Gar. Although not a threat in the water, if you happen to catch one of these tenacious fish on a rod and reel, be very careful. Boney spines protrude from the Dorsal Fin and Pectoral Fins, and can deliver a painful dose of poison. If stung, DO NOT suck out the poison, this will only risk the spread of poison through the sinuses or down the throat. Swelling and numbness is common, and will typically taper off after a few hours, as will any pain.

Lionfish

lionfish found in the gulf coast
Gulf Coast Invasive Lionfish - latimes.com
The Lionfish has invaded Gulf Coast waters in recent years. The introduction of these interesting animals is thought to have been caused by the destruction of a Southern Florida Aquarium by Hurricane Andrew. Lionfish are becoming a more ominous presence in Gulf Coast corral reefs, wreaking havoc on native species. But there is a silver lining to the Lionfish dilemma, they are fun to catch and delicious to eat.

Despite the delicious taste of prepared Lionfish meat, there is a hidden danger to the practice. The Lionfish has long and spiny venomous fin rays, and the venom can seep into improperly prepared fillets. While severe injuries or fatalities are uncommon, the Lionfish should be treated with extreme caution.

*Find Lionfish Filleting, Cleaning, and Cooking Tips 

Barracuda

dangerous barracuda fish
Barracuda in the Gulf of Mexico
The Barracuda has an aggressive personality to match it's mean grimace. This large fish is commonly found in deep Gulf waters, making trouble for deep sea anglers, but has been known to venture into shallow waters in search of food. As a scavenger species, the Barracuda has been known to mistake snorkelers and swimmers for large predators, hoping to get a piece of some scraps.

Swimmers have reported Barracuda bites, but incidents happen few and far between, and are mostly caused by cloudy water and poor visibility. If following the same rules as you would for avoiding a shark attack, a Barracuda shouldn't cause any trouble on your beach vacation!  

*For the best deep sea fishing on the Gulf, visit Gulf Coast Deep Sea Fishing on Tripshock.com

Jellyfish


So you may wonder, "who's the main culprit behind purple beach flags"? Jellyfish are the most commonly encountered marine animal on the list, with millions of the translucent creatures floating in the Gulf Coast wake throughout the year. Outcomes of Jellyfish encounters range from a gooey kiss, to a one-way trip to the Emergency Room!

Though hundreds of Jellyfish species reside in the Gulf of Mexico, the most common include:
  • Moon Jellyfish
  • Cannonball
  • Portuguese Man-Of-War
  • Sea Nettle Jellyfish
  • Blue Button Jellyfish
  • By-The-Wind-Sailor
  • Mushroom Cap
  • Mauve Stinger
  • Box Jellyfish

gulf coast box jellyfish
Box Jellyfish of the Gulf of Mexico
The most dangerous Jelyfish in the Gulf of Mexico are the Portuguese Man-Of-War and Box Jellyfish. A Sting from any of these two animals can cause severe pain, and death under unfortunate circumstances. It is best to avoid all Jellyfish, even the Mesoglea (Jellyfish tissue found on the beach). It can be hard to differentiate between the different species, and a wrongful identification may result in a bad beach day! Jellyfish are very slow moving and typically ride the waves capturing fish and small sea creatures in their tentacles, so avoiding a sting can be easy if you're careful.

What To Do If Stung By A Jellyfish

There are 5 steps to treating a Jellyfish sting from WebMD.

Get the person out of the water - Leave the water to avoid further stings or for quick treatment
Stop Stinging - Wash the area with seawater to neutralize stinging cells, do not use fresh or tap water
Decontaminate and remove tentacles - Soak the area in hot water for at least 20 minutes, cold packs can't be used if the area can't be soaked in hot water.
Treat discomfort - Use mild hydrocortisone cream or an antihistamine (over the counter includes benadryl, zyrtec, or allegra) to relieve itching and swelling.
Follow Up - Use ice packs or over-the-counter pain relievers for pain, and clean open sores 3 times daily, making sure to apply antibiotic ointment (bandage if needed)

*Call 911 if the victim displays 1) signs of allergic reaction 2) a sting from a Box Jellyfish, 3) stings that cover more than half of an arm or leg

  • http://oceanofk.org/sharks/gulfOfMexico.html
  • http://health.usnews.com/health-news/articles/2015/03/27/2014-saw-only-3-shark-attack-deaths-worldwide 
  • http://www.al.com/news/beaches/index.ssf/2014/08/stingrays_in_the_gulf_are_more.html
  • http://www.eparks.org/marine_and_coastal/marine_wildlife/alligator.asp 
  • http://animals.sandiegozoo.org/animals/crocodilian
  • http://www.sms.si.edu/irlspec/Ariops_felis.htm
  • Goddard, Jacqui (20 October 2008). "Lionfish devastate Florida's native shoals". The Times. London. Retrieved 12 July 2009.
  • Bester, Cathleen. "Great barracuda". Florida Museum of Natural History Ichthyology Department. Retrieved 2014-04-13. 
  • http://www.beachhunter.net/thingstoknow/jellyfish/