Shark bites not enough for you? Look out for stingrays

A swimmer in Pawleys Island reported being injured by a stingray barb yesterday, the second such injury on the Grand Strand in the past two weeks.

Like shark bites, stingray attacks in this area are rare and usually result in minor injuries. But they do happen and local experts say stingray barbs are something that swimmers and fishermen should be aware of and know how to avoid.

Stingrays are among the main attractions at Ripley's Aquarium in Myrtle Beach, with the barbs on the animals' tails removed, making them harmless to visitors.

But swimmers have been known to get a sharp and painful surprise by stepping on a stingray that has buried itself in the sand and used the barb on its tail to defend itself.

"If you step on one, their instinct is just to kind of throw their tail up right where their barb is, that's the only way they have to protect themselves," said Ripley's senior aquarist Stacia White.

Fishermen have also been victims of stingray barbs.

Terry Willis of Charleston, WV caught his first-ever stingray Thursday on the 2nd Ave. Pier in Myrtle Beach and took great care removing the hook, when he saw the 6-inch barb on its tail.

"Yeah, it can definitely hurt you," Willis said. "They could do a good bit of damage."

Willis tossed the ray back without getting hurt, but a teenage swimmer from Virginia suffered a foot injury from stepping on a stingray two weeks ago and another swimmer was hurt in Pawleys Island Wednesday.

White said fishermen can avoid a sting by carefully removing the serrated barb with clippers or pliers and swimmers can avoid a problem by doing the stingray shuffle.

"When you're walking in the ocean, if you just shuffle your feet instead of picking your feet up, you'll dislodge that sting ray before you step on it," White said.

Naturalist Steve Irwin died from a stingray barb that punctured his chest, but white says that was a fluke and extremely rare.

Still, a stingray barb is not to be trifled with.

"It can be very very painful, so we always recommend anybody go see a doctor."

Southern stingrays, like those off our coast, can grow up to 8-feet wide, with barbs nearly a foot long.