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Attacked by Hawaiian Sea Critters: 5 Worst-Case Scenarios

Hawaii Surfing Diving
by Pele Omori Sep 7, 2009
Whether you’re into diving, surfing, or kayaking, your Hawaiian trip can come to a screeching halt if you’re zapped, poked, or eaten by sea critters.

HERE ARE A FEW worst-case scenarios, how to avoid them, and what to do if you get unlucky.

Box jellyfish

Don’t be smitten by their tiny, translucent bodies—box jellyfish stings can cause anaphylactic shock.

Apply vinegar to the sting and remove the tentacles with clean tweezers. Try to keep a steady hand, as rubbing spreads the venom. Use ice to alleviate pain, but don’t pee on it– contrary to popular myth, urine worsens the bite. If things aren’t feeling right or the pain persists, see a doctor.

Portuguese man-o’-war

These bluish jellyfish-like creatures look like bubbles waiting to be popped, but don’t do it – you run the risk of being stung by its 30-foot long tentacles. If you’re sensitive or just plain unlucky, you could end up with anaphylactic shock or organ failure.

Lifeguards usually post warning signs on the shore – follow them. Don’t touch or step on the critters either, even the washed-up dead ones, as their sting remains active long after death.

If you get stung, treat the zap by rinsing it with salt water – don’t use vinegar in this case. Remove the tentacles with tweezers and see a doc if you feel sick. Icing the wound can also help to relieve the pain.

Moray eels

Divers have a higher risk of being bitten by these long, skinny fish, found under rocks and inside holes in ocean reefs. They’re no weaklings—the set of large pointy teeth and strong jaws can seize if provoked.

To avoid eel bites, don’t stick your hand under rocks or into holes (duh), and don’t feed morays. If you’ve been bitten, clean the wound with water, and slow down the bleeding with pressure. Remove bits of teeth with clean tweezers and seek medical care if the wound doesn’t hold together with a band-aid.


There are 40 species of shark near the islands, ranging from the harmless-looking pygmy to the massive whale shark. But there are only a few that might want you for lunch.

The scalloped hammerhead and the grey reef will get you if you try to get them, but if a shark with a blunt nose and striped sides comes by, you’ve encountered a tiger shark—the most dangerous near-shore shark of them all. Remain calm and leave the water quietly – flailing will only make you seem more appetizing.

Common sense is your friend; don’t swim, surf, or dive alone. Avoid murky waters near harbor entrances, stream mouths, channels, or steep drop-offs. If you find yourself near the jaws of a shark, don’t play dead. Fight for your life with your surfboard or your fists: sharks’ most sensitive areas are their snouts, eyes, and gills. The shark will lose its appetite if you’re hard prey.

Apply pressure on the wound to stop the bleeding, which will attract even more sharks. Get emergency help and treat for shock while you wait.

Yellow-bellied sea snakes

If you’ve gotten attacked by one, you must really have the unlucky gene. These snakes are a very rare sight in Hawaiian waters, and indeed deadly.

A relative of the cobra, their nasty venom causes paralysis or cardiac arrest. Call 911 and keep yourself or your buddy calm and warm.

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