Open Water Hazards: Marine Life – Weever Fish

Treating a Weever Fish sting:

  • Seek assistance from a lifeguard, who are qualified first aiders.
  • As soon as possible submerge the area which has been stung, invariably the foot, into water as hot as you can withstand. This increases the blood flow which assists natural cleaning and healing, the heat also helps to breakdown the proteins of the venom.
  • To avoid scalding, place the affected area in unheated water first and then add hot water until the appropriate temperature is achieved. Maintain this temperature.
  • Keep affected area submerged until pain starts to subside. This can take up to 40 minutes.
  • The water needs to be over 40 degrees Celsius to be of any benefit in breaking down the poison.

The Weever Fish

The Weever fish spends most of its time buried under the sand. It grows to a maximum length of 15 centimeters. They are found all round the Irish coast but only in sandy areas where the water is warm, shallow and close to the mean low water tide line. It is camouflaged on a sandy bottom where it digs in so that only the eyes, mouth and fin spines project.

Should a bather or surfer be unlucky enough to step on a Weever fish the spines inflict a painful poisonous puncture wound. This can result in excruciating pain, which is at its most intense for the first two hours when the foot normally goes red and swells up. Then it may feel numb until the following day with irritation and pain that may last for up to two weeks. Sometimes, the spine breaks off in the foot and it will cause discomfort until it is removed.

The poison is a type of protein and is heat labile. Most reports of stings occur during the month of August. This does not mean that this fish are particularly prevalent inshore during this month but merely reflects the greater numbers of bathers as the sea temperature reaches the highest of the year.

The poison may cause very severe pain, sever shock, vomiting, headache and fever. One danger is that it can cause anaphylactic shock or allergic reaction and people have been known to have severe or life-threatening symptoms. In which case medical attention must be sought immediately. It is suggested that some drownings in some beaches may be caused by incapacitation from pain after an injury from one of these fish.

[Source: Irish Health, posted Tue 10/08/2010)