SM PIER — This summer, Santa Monica Beach seems to be holding an unintentional reenactment of the classic horror movie “Jaws,” but minus the Great White shark.
One by one, beachgoers are getting picked off by two denizens of the not-so-deep, as a proliferation of jelly fish and stingrays have led to uncommonly high rates of stings that have required emergency response.
Authorities only get called when the victim rates their pain as a seven on a scale of one to 10.
Since April 1, 18 victims, ranging in age from 6 to 58, have been on the receiving end of a stingray or jelly fish’s wrath, and called it in to the Santa Monica Fire Department, said Capt. Mark Bridges.
That’s compared to the six incidents seen in the same time span last year.
“It’s really unusual,” he said. “I feel like we’ve been getting a call on it every day.”
Stingrays fall in the shark family, but they’re considerably more docile than their more feared cousins.
They’re thin and flat, and hide under the sand from predators like sharks and other rays, according to National Geographic.
The creatures usually arrive in the Santa Monica area around this time each year, said Vicki Wawerchak, director of the Heal the Bay Santa Monica Pier Aquarium.
“This just seems to be the season we see them,” Wawerchak said. “They come to shore, usually a bit south of here.”
The ones found in the Santa Monica Bay run around 22 inches across, similar to a large dinner plate, and only let loose the stinger when they’re under duress.
“They have a barb on the end of their tails,” Wawerchak said. “People step on it, and the barb goes right into their foot, ankle or bottom of the leg, depending on the height.”
The stinger is ridged, with over a dozen little barbs that go in smoothly, but cause a lot of damage on the way out, said Capt. Dennis Morales. Morales works for the Los Angeles County Fire Department Lifeguards, and has had to deal with his fair share of stingray and jelly fish induced wounds.
The creatures come equipped not only with a stinger, but with venom that they then pump into the wound left by their defensive assault.
“It can be very painful,” Morales said. “In order to break it down, the only remedy is hot water … as hot as you can handle it.”
The best way to avoid stingrays is to, literally, do the shuffle.
Rather than walking normally on the ocean floor, beachgoers would do well to shuffle their feet forward as though they were on skis. The idea is that the stingray has time to see the foot coming and flee, rather than be surprised when one lands on it and attack.
Although creatures that cause painful lesions generally do not get a lot of love, stingrays earned a particularly bad reputation after the 2006 death of Steve Irwin, a naturalist commonly known as the Crocodile Hunter.
Irwin was stabbed in the heart by a large stingray in what those familiar with the creatures call “a freak accident.”
“That was really random, a totally bizarre case,” Wawerchak said.
Similar to the stingrays, jelly fish float through the ocean carried by the waves.
“It’s not like they’re swimming toward us, or anything,” Wawerchak said.
Either way, brushing up against a jelly fish can feel like an attack. The animals have venom stored in sacks on their wavy legs that can cause irritation or even a fatal allergic reaction under extreme conditions.
Although colorful cures to jellyfish stings abound, Wawerchak suggests an application of everyday white vinegar, which denatures the toxins released by the creature.
People who don’t travel with vinegar can protect themselves from the painful caress of a jelly by wearing a rash guard, or a long shirt.