Beware the Fish that Kill

When most people consider animals that pose a threat to humans, they think of large mammals like lions and bears that can maul us to death.  Or snakes and other reptiles that can bite and poison us, often fatally. 

What about fish and other aquatic animals?  Other than sharks, most of us probably haven’t given them much thought.

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In fact, some sea creatures are as dangerous as hell.  We may not have much cause to come into direct contact with them, but it can happen anyway, with deadly results.

Here are five of the most threatening aquatic animals around.  You might survive a lion, bear or shark attack, but it could take a minor miracle to survive an unfortunate close encounter with any of these guys.

Stonefish           

This sluggish bottom-dwelling fish lives among rocks or coral in mudflats and estuaries in the Indo-Pacific region.  It’s just waiting for you to step on it.  And since it blends in perfectly with its background, you may never see it.  

The stonefish has venomous sacs on each of its 13 spikes.  The venom is usually released when pressure is applied to the fish’s spine — by your foot, for example.  The venom will cause severe pain, heart failure, and even death if left untreated. 

Apply hot water in the interim but get to a hospital immediately.  You can die in less than an hour.

Stonefish are lazy, which helps.  They will never try to attack you.  They don’t even go after their prey.  They wait for their prey to get near, within a body’s length, and then strike in a flash.  They typically consume their prey in one giant sucking swallow.

Stonefish have another highly unusual trait: They can survive outside the water for well over an hour.  That means if you’re careless, you might well find yourself stung on land.   Can you imagine anything more humiliating than getting killed by a fish on your home turf?

Puffer Fish

It looks cute and defenseless and highly vulnerable but it’s a killer alright — the second most deadly fish in the sea.  Its poison is known as tetrodotoxin and derives from bacteria that live inside the Puffer.  Amazingly, the poison serves to reduce its own stress.  At the expense of every other creature, apparently.

Tetrodotoxin is a powerful neurotoxin.  It attacks the human nervous system and disrupts the signals from the nerves from the brain.  The first sign of trouble is numbness and paralysis in the face that moves to your hands and feet, and eventually targets your respiratory system

Death can occur in as little as 20 minutes, but some survive for 24 hours.  Poison from a single pufferfish can kill 30 people.  That’s how lethal it is

But there’s an irony here:  The fish is also considered a delicacy, especially in Japan.  It takes two years of training for a chef to be considered qualified to remove the fish’s internal organs and all trace of the poison.  But nobody’s perfect.  About 5 people die annually from eating a puffer.

Still, don’t be surprised if we’re all eating puffer one day.  In January 2019, researchers announced in the American Chemical Society’s Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry that they had identified the major compounds that create the delectable taste.  They’ve even created a liquefied extract that is considered safe and healthy.  Bon Appetit!

Needle Fish                                                         

Stonefish and Pufferfish are passive creatures.  As a rule, don’t bother them, they won’t bother you.  Not so with this slender dude (weighing about 9 lbs but a good 3 feet long).  Needlefish can swim 40 mph underwater and are known to leap through the air to spear their prey. 

And sometimes that includes humans.  A 10-year old boy in Hawaii encountered a needlefish that speared him in the brain, killing him.  A Russian woman was speared in the neck but survived.  Periodically surfers and swimmers have suffered lesser injuries from nasty near-fatal scrapes with needlefish.

Another favorite target of needlefish is fishermen. The fish are attracted to light and may swarm and attack fishing boats at night in the Indo-Pacific region where they predominate.  Fishermen say the fish are more dangerous than sharks 

Needlefish won’t poison you – so what? 

Goliath Tigerfish 

Another highly aggressive fish, this one weighing a massive 150 pounds and nearly 5 feet in length.  Goliath is sometimes referred to as the “African piranha.”  Like its over-hyped South American cousin, it often hunts in groups and has powerful jaws lined with razor-sharp teeth – about the size of a Great White s and 32 in all.

The fish has been known to attack crocodiles — and live to tell the tale.  It’s also capable of leaping from the water to capture and consume a bird.  This is a giant fish predator – hence its name. 

The good news?  It’s only found in the murky waters of the Congo River and Lake Tanganyika, which borders Zambia, Tanzania, Congo, and Burundi.  Lake Tanganyika is the longest freshwater lake and second deepest in the world and is filled with aquatic riches. 

Local villagers depend upon the lake for survival.  It also attracts hordes of yummy tourists, some of whom ignore warnings not to swim in the lake.

Electric Eel   

There are a lot of candidates for #5 that would make a Top Ten list, the moray eel and the sting ray among them.  But I chose the electric eel for its “shock” value.

Measuring up to 8 ft and weighing over 40 lbs, the electric eel isn’t really an eel.  It’s a relative of the catfish.  However, it’s no ordinary catfish.  Its entire body is dedicated to producing electricity.  It can shock its prey – and predators –with a whopping 600 volts (a  species discovered last September can produce 860 volts).  The effect on a human is like being tasered or shot with a powerful stun gun. 

Multiple shocks from an electric eel have been known to cause respiratory or heart failure.  The good news is the eel often suffers a power failure after the first jolt, but if you’re in fast-moving water, you could still drown.

You can find the electric eel primarily in South America in the Orinoco River.  Because the river lacks oxygen, the eel must surface often to gulp the air.  That can give you a fair warning to stay away.  But it can also expose you to the eel, which is known to leap from the water to grab its prey.

For an extraordinary view of a leaping electric eel, see this viral video.  Imagine if the man who took it had been on the receiving end!

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