Friday, December 21, 2012


It finally happened. I did something almost right and learned firsthand what it feels like to be stung by a stingray. Not pleasant.

I was lucky (or "blessed" if you prefer the term). The barb didn't set in my flesh so I didn't need a trip to the ER to have it removed. I still had to deal with the pain, though, which was like a wasp sting. Since I was leading a private kayak tour at the time, and didn't want to freak my patrons out, I smiled and made the best of it. Yes, I toughed it out.

The point of this blog is not to describe my pain, however, or praise myself for how I handled the situation. The point is that I did something almost  right and got stung as a result.

When wading in the shallow waters of the Indian River Lagoon, one is advised to do the "Stingray Shuffle." Never never never pick up your feet when you wade in the estuary!  Stingrays have a
reflex that causes their tails to flip up whenever they are stepped on, just as humans will kick anyone who hits them in the kneecap with a hammer.

[Side note: what is up with that particular reflex? What possible purpose can it serve?]

So before letting my patrons get out of the kayaks to explore sandbars, I always instruct them to shuffle their feet and keep their eyes down.  I also demonstrate the technique, giving a little dance lesson.  I sweep the perimeter.  I look for the telltale shape of the stingray and point out any that I see.  As I shuffle near them, they swim away, often too quickly for my patrons to get a glimpse.  Over the past 8 years I have been in the water with dozens of rays and have never even come close to getting stung, because I take the appropriate precautions. None of my patrons has ever gotten stung, because they are wise to follow my instructions.

On this particular tour, however, I messed up.  We were on the sandbar with about twenty rays.  (Usually we see only one or two.)  These rays were everywhere, and they got so used to us that they stopped swimming away when we approached.  We got some excellent photos.  Then it happened. I got so used to the rays that I stopped looking at my feet while I shuffled.  I was talking to my patrons, looking up at them as I shuffled, and I shuffled right into a ray.  I was so close that when he flicked his tail to swim away, he flicked it right into my ankle.

Later, telling my sons about the incident, I started to say, "I was doing everything right, but . . ." when I realized it wasn't true. Yes, I was shuffling, but I wasn't doing everything right or I wouldn't have been stung. I had neglected one thing: I had taken my eyes off the rays.

In life, we need to remember to keep our eyes on the right things.

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