dont go swimming...

The Portuguese man-of-war is one of the most dangerous inhabitants of the sea that one could ever come across.
The Portuguese man-of-war is one of the most dangerous inhabitants of the sea that one could ever come across.

All through man's existence on Earth, there has been what may be described as an intimate relationship with the sea. This intimate relationship is not particularly surprising given that all things living on Earth today have their beginnings in the sea; and archaeological evidence indicates clearly that this relationship predates recorded history.

That the sea has played an extremely beneficial role in human affairs can scarcely be denied; as a source of food and a means of allowing man move from one place to the other are points that immediately come to mind. However, the sea has also been a source of death or grave injury to man throughout the entire time that this relationship has existed.

A major source of the danger that faces man in his interaction with sea is not that of capsized ships, drowning and the like, but from the creatures that inhabit the sea,especially at times that he is least likely to think that he is in danger. In regard to man's interaction with sea creatures and the dangers that are, or may be, associated with such creature, one's mind is apt to go to such great denizens of the deep such as sharks, killer whales and the like. Indeed, it was not too long ago that Russell Easton, a British conservationist, had a narrow escape from an encounter with a Tiger Shark which he was filming off the coast of the Bahamas. He was able to fend of the great fish with the aid of his camera whilst his diving partner who was some distance away got some really phenomenal footage on his camera. But, whilst it is clear that these renowned predators of the deep pose a clear and present danger, there are some less renowned and more exotic dwellers in the world’s seas who present as much, if not more danger to man whenever he trespasses into their domain.

Take, for instance, the Portuguese man-of-war, cyanea capillata. This bobbing, slimy, jellyfish-like object is certainly one of the inhabitants of the deep that the fun-seeking or at-work swimmer or diver ought to be stay far away from. This funny looking contraption is, in truth, a death machine per excellence! A combination of four, yes four, different creatures that can number up to a thousand or more individual members of the different species all living together in perfect symbiotic harmony, the different species take responsibility for different aspects of group life so that such specialized functions as reproduction, catching food, digestion, floating, etc. are handled by individual species for the overall benefit of the conglomerate. Indeed, no individual species can survive on its own if it is dissociated from the others; so perfect is the symbiotic relationship between the combining members.

The Portuguese man-of-war is an interesting looking contraption; with trailing tentacles that can spread up to 18 meters (about 60 feet), this creature casts an extremely wide swathe indeed. For the small fishes and marine animals that come into contact with the man-of-war’s tentacles, instant death is the result for the poison that is secreted by this denizen of the deep is almost as potent as that secreted by a cobra! For humans who come into an encounter with the man-of-war, a bad sting causes extremely severe pain, a rapid drop in blood pressure, shock and possible death [for an example of where the Portuguese man-of-war has been used in fiction, see The Lion’s Mane in the Casebook of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle]. Where death does not intervene, humans who come into intimate contact with the man-of-war will carry for a long time, perhaps for ever after, on their bodies the weals that have been imprinted by the man-of-war’s terrible tentacles.

The box jellyfish, a resident of the waters off the coast of Queensland, Australia, is another inhabitant of the seas that it is best to avoid. Also known as the sea wasp, this creature shows clearly that dynamite can come in extremely small packages. This dome-shaped creature, no more than 25 centimeters (10 inches) high, secretes one of the most potent poisons known. A human being who is stung by a box jellyfish can develop an extremely high fever, start gasping for breath, go blind and die all in a matter of a minutes. Over the last century or so, at least 65 persons are known to have died as a result of an encounter with the box jellyfish. Ironically, there exists an antidote to the poison that the box jellyfish secretes; however the poison’s extremely speedy action means that, in reality, victims have very little chance of survival.

One of the most beautiful creatures in the world makes its home in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. The cone-shell snail makes its home in a shell that is most highly-prized amongst collectors of such tidbits, But inside that so beautiful shell lurks one of the most efficient killers known in nature. The snail that inhabits the shell is possessed of a trunk-like tube whose tip has a number of hypodermic needle-like teeth. At any time the snail considers itself to be in danger, it can whip its tiny trunk against the body of its enemy and inject a paralyzing fluid through its needle teeth. Death usually occurs within the next few hours; there are at least 10 confirmed deaths attributed to this beautiful snail.

Keeping in touch with beauty, the lion fish is one of the most beautiful fishes known to man but it is also one of the most deadly. The fragile finery of the fish’s plumage conceals extremely potent weapons: 18 poison-tipped spines. This resident of the Pacific spends most of its time swimming lazily around the coral reefs that abound in that ocean. However, when the lion fish is frightened it stands its ground, so to speak. Swinging around, it points those poison-tipped spines at its enemy. Humans who are stung by the lion-fish’s spines go through extremely excruciating pain and run the risk of death unless they receive immediate emergency medical attention.

And then, there is the stone fish which, in the estimation of some experts, is the most dangerous fish known to man. Stone colored and lumpy of body, the stone fish is almost impossible to detect as it lazes against the rocks and coral reefs that abound in the areas that it makes its home in. The stone fish is found in the Indian and Pacific oceans and inhabits a very wide area from the coasts of the Red Sea to the coasts of northern Australia. The stone fish is equipped with spines that are extremely venomous and when the fish considers itself to be threatened, it raises those spines and remains quiescent for a time before, moving in a blur of speed, it attacks its perceived enemies with its upraised spines. In humans, the pain from the venom that is released from the spines of the stone fish can be excruciating and can last for up to half a day or more with the victim frothing at the mouth and biting convulsively. Potential helpers run a clear risk of being bitten and it usually requires several strong men to move a victim from water to land. Often, death is as a result of drowning as the excruciating pain which the victim is undergoing does not permit him or her to take any self-protective measures. If it is possible to bring the victim ashore, the most immediate help that can be given is through the application of heat, best in the form of near-scalding water. Anti-venom for the stone fish poison exists, but medical assistance must be prompt. Where medical attention is promptly delivered, victims can expect to survive and be back upon their feet and walking in a month or two. Less fortunate victims, if they have not died from drowning, can die within 6 hours.

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