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Swimmers, Surfers and Sailors are Reminded of the Venomous Weever Fish

10th August 2010
Swimmers, Surfers and Sailors are Reminded of the Venomous Weever Fish
Excruciating pain as spines embed into human flesh from a marine animal. Not the sort of holiday talk, you were thinking about? The CEO of Irish Water Safety John Leech has issued a notice reminding swimmers, surfers and all beach users of the little sandy coloured fish that lives in the sea on our beaches. It spends most of the time buried under the sand with just its venomous black dorsal fin showing above the sandy bottom. It grows to a maximum length of 15 centimetres. They are found all round the Irish coast but only in sandy areas where the water is warm and shallow close to the mean low water tide line. There is a new moon today and that will give us spring tides which means that swimmers and surfers will have to venture further out on the beach in to the area where the weever live.

Should a bather step on a weever fish then the pain is excruciating as the spines embed into the human flesh and discharge their poison. (SEE RELATED VIDEO BELOW)

The pain is at its most intense for the first two hours when the foot normally goes red and swells up, and 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. You won't see a Weever fish easily but you will know it's there if you are unfortunate enough to stand on one since its back has a defensive sting mechanism. The sting can be very painful but will not cause permanent damage.

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 only death on record after someone being stung by a Weever occurred as long ago as 1927, when an angler suffered multiple stings whilst fishing off Dungeness in the UK.

The mouth itself is in an unusual position on its head, oblique and almost vertical and contains some of the most sharp and vicious looking teeth in the undersea world. Luckily it only reaches about 15 cm long.
The Weever has to be quick to catch is prey though, and for half a metre it has a fair turn of speed, before sinking to the sea floor. This fish does not have a swim bladder, the device used by most bony fish to keep buoyant.

The species found in shallow waters is called the Lesser Weever with the scientific name of Echiichthys vipera. There is a larger species called the Greater Weever, Trachinus draco, found in deeper water and occasionally seen on the fishmongers slab. The word 'weever' was first found used in the English language during the 17th century and comes from the Old northern French word 'wivre'.

One danger is that it can cause anaphylactic shock or allergic reaction and people have been known to die.

People who have been stung should take painkillers and if they develop an allergic reaction to the sting, a course of antihistamines is recommended

Seek assistance from a lifeguard who are all qualified first aiders.

Aspivenin syringes can painlessly draw out poison from the wound.

If you are away from a beach with lifeguard support, as soon as possible get the area which has been stung, invariably the foot, into hot water, this increases the blood flow which assists natural cleaning and healing, the heat also helps to breakdown the poison. The water needs to be over 40 degrees Celsius to be of any benefit in breaking down the poison.

Published in Marine Wildlife
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Marine Wildlife Around Ireland One of the greatest memories of any day spent boating around the Irish coast is an encounter with marine wildlife.  It's a thrill for young and old to witness seabirds, seals, dolphins and whales right there in their own habitat. As boaters fortunate enough to have experienced it will testify even spotting a distant dorsal fin can be the highlight of any day afloat.  Was that a porpoise? Was it a whale? No matter how brief the glimpse it's a privilege to share the seas with Irish marine wildlife.

Thanks to the location of our beautiful little island, perched in the North Atlantic Ocean there appears to be no shortage of marine life to observe.

From whales to dolphins, seals, sharks and other ocean animals this page documents the most interesting accounts of marine wildlife around our shores. We're keen to receive your observations, your photos, links and youtube clips.

Boaters have a unique perspective and all those who go afloat, from inshore kayaking to offshore yacht racing that what they encounter can be of real value to specialist organisations such as the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) who compile a list of sightings and strandings. The IWDG knowledge base has increased over the past 21 years thanks in part at least to the observations of sailors, anglers, kayakers and boaters.

Thanks to the IWDG work we now know we share the seas with dozens of species who also call Ireland home. Here's the current list: Atlantic white-sided dolphin, beluga whale, blue whale, bottlenose dolphin, common dolphin, Cuvier's beaked whale, false killer whale, fin whale, Gervais' beaked whale, harbour porpoise, humpback whale, killer whale, minke whale, northern bottlenose whale, northern right whale, pilot whale, pygmy sperm whale, Risso's dolphin, sei whale, Sowerby's beaked whale, sperm whale, striped dolphin, True's beaked whale and white-beaked dolphin.

But as impressive as the species list is the IWDG believe there are still gaps in our knowledge. Next time you are out on the ocean waves keep a sharp look out!

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