MARINE LIFEThe Pacific Ocean is home to thousands of species of different marine life ranging from the microscopic to the gigantic. The Southern California coast houses all kinds of invertebrates, fish, and marine mammals. Even with this vast ecosystem off of our coastline, very few marine animals actually present a hazard to beach goers. However, hazardous marine life does exist and the best way to avoid being injured by these animals is to be able to recognize them and understand their physiology and behavior
The following is a list of hazardous marine life that exists along the Southern California coast along with general information about the animals and how to prevent being injured by them:
Stingrays exist in shallow waters where they feed on shellfish and crustaceans in the sand and bury themselves to hide from predators. They have a sharp barb on their tail for defense, which flips up and can pierce the skin of the ankle or foot leaving a puncture wound. This is an automatic reflex, which can only happen when they are stepped on. The best way to avoid stepping on a stingray is to shuffle your feet as you walk out through shallow water. This will scare away the stingray from its hiding place. Stingrays are not aggressive, however their sting is extremely painful. Treatment for stingray wounds includes soaking the wound in water as hot as you can stand for ½ to 1 ½ hours or until the pain is gone. Stingray wounds can cause severe allergic reactions in some people. Always report stingray injuries to the lifeguard on duty.
Jellyfish are not really fish; rather, they are invertebrates that float freely in the open ocean with the currents. They have tentacles, which hang from the characteristic "bell" or head of the stingray. These tentacles are primarily used for catching food and have microscopic stinging cells, which shoot invisible harpoon like projectiles into fish and other organisms that swim into its tentacles. Sometimes jellyfish float into the surf zone and are broken apart by the waves. Usually people get stung when fragmented tentacle (which can still sting) brush against swimmers causing a mild rash and some pain and discomfort. In other more tropical oceans of the world, there are jellyfish that can cause severe allergic and neurogenic reactions and even death. In Southern California, jellyfish stings are generally harmless and discomfort and pain usually subsides in ½ hour to forty-five minutes.
Seals and Sea Lions
Seals and sea lions are ocean mammals, which are quite common along the Southern California coast. They spend part of their time sunbathing on rocks, beaches, and buoys, where they can sometimes be heard barking. Much of their time is spent in the ocean hunting for fish. They are generally harmless animals but can become aggressive if they or their offspring (pups) are threatened. Sometimes they will crawl up onto the beaches to rest or warm up. Never attempt to approach, feed, or pet a seal or sea lion that has come onto land. If they appear to be injured or ill, contact the lifeguard and the proper authorities will be notified.
There are many different types of sharks that exist along our coastline. Most of them are completely harmless to humans. The most common sightings are of dolphins, whales, and sea lions. They are quite common along the shoreline and are many times are mistaken for sharks because of their sleek body shapes and fins that sometimes protrude from the water. Dolphins can be easily distinguished from sharks by recognizing their up and down motion while swimming and by their curved, more rounded dorsal fins. Sharks swim with a side-to-side motion and have triangular shaped dorsal fins. Although more rarely sighted, sharks do exist in our ocean waters and can pose a threat to human safety. Lifeguards have protocols in place to warn the public when there is a verified shark sighting that may pose a threat to human safety. Please be sure to follow any instructions and/or heed warnings posted on signs and/or announced by lifeguards. Please check in with the lifeguard on duty in the area you are planning to swim if you have any questions about shark activity.
Sea Urchins are spiny relatives of the starfish that dwell in small cracks and crevices of rocks and reefs of the California coastline. They are usually well camouflaged and can be mistakenly stepped on in rocky shorelines. Their spines are not significantly dangerous but can impale the foot quite easily if they are stepped on. It is important to make sure the spine fragments are completely removed from the skin to avoid infection of the wound.