Stingray Attacks on the Rise at Southern California Beaches

A local lifeguard department recorded six times more stingray attacks this year.

ByABC News
August 16, 2016, 2:31 PM

— -- Several beaches along the Southern California coast have experienced an increase in painful stingray attacks as weather conditions have lured the aquatic creatures closer to shore, according to local lifeguards.

In the past 30 days, the Newport Beach Fire Department lifeguards recorded 127 stingray injuries, compared to only 20 over the same period of time one year ago, Mike Halphide, Lifeguard Battalion Chief at the Newport Beach Fire Department told ABC News.

Halphide said the jump in stingray attacks began around mid-July this year, when the water temperatures spiked. NASA reported yesterday that this July was the hottest since their record keeping began, and stingray attacks seem be to the latest unintended consequence of warming ocean waters.

"We had really warm water," Halphide told ABC News, "we had water in the high 70s."

Coupled with the rising water temperatures, Halphide said they also experienced a "drop off of surf."

"So what that does is creates calmer conditions that allows the stingrays to come in from the deeper waters to the shallower waters," he said.

The six-fold increase of stingray attacks this summer is likely because of these two factors that have brought many stingrays closer to shore, Halphide said.

"The stingrays are local up and down the California coast from Baja up to Northern California, so most of the beaches in this area have had the same conditions," Halphide added, saying they have experienced attacks along several beaches.

There are steps people can take to prevent stingray attacks, according to Halphide. "The first thing that we want to remind people is just check with the lifeguard, they can give you the most up-to-date information about increased risks."

The second way is a method called the "stingray shuffle," where you drag your feet on the ground as you enter the ocean, kicking up sand.

"What that does is it creates some turbulence and scares the stingrays," Halphide said, adding that attacks "usually occur in fairly shallow waters."

In the event that a stingray attacks, the first thing you should do is go to a lifeguard, he said.

While in a majority of cases are not serious or life-threatening, Halphide said that these attacks are extremely painful. He said that, on the pain scale of one to 10, 10 being the most pain, "Most people will describe the pain as a 7, 8, or a 9."

Halphide said the stings are usually treated by soaking in hot water.

"What the heat does is breaks down the enzymes that cause the stinging pain," Halphide said, "They'll soak it typically for 30 to 45 minutes."

In extreme cases, he said people will go into anaphylactic shock, which is a serious but "very rare" complication.

Halphide reminds beach-goers to seek help if they have been stung. "Always just come check with a lifeguard, they are the best resource."