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Sea Snakes

Many types of sea snake inhabit the warm waters surrounding northern Australia. Crowds of them drift along the surface of the sea at times. Most are very poisonous, but they do not often bite people. Anyone hauling in fishnets may be at risk, however.

Sea snake bites cause symptoms and signs similar to those from land snakes, and first aid is the same. Sea snake antivenom may be needed; if this is not available, tiger snake antivenom can be given.


The sting is attached to the long, whip-like tail. Stingrays often lie on the bottom of the sea, and if you stand on them or swim near them they give a sudden lash of the tail that drives in the sting with great force. The wound is intensely painful and often bleeds profusely. It is generally contaminated and becomes infected, requiring surgical treatment (some tissue death is usual around the site). Occasionally breathing difficulty develops and may lead to unconsciousness and breathing failure.

First aid treatment

  1. If there is bleeding, apply pressure over the wound.
  2. Wash the wound in hand-hot water. A cold compress afterwards may help to relieve pain, though some victims report greater relief from hot water.
  3. If breathing difficulty develops, give expired air resuscitation and continue until medical help arrives.
  4. All stingray wounds should be seen by a doctor as soon as possible.


Stonefish are the world's most dangerous stinging fish. They inhabit the shallow waters of mud flats and coral reefs around Australia's tropical coast. They can grow up to about 45 cm long and are covered with greenish slime. They are hard to distinguish from a stone because they lie half buried in the sand. when you tread on one its spines will inject poison deep into your foot, causing great pain and swelling. After it has been absorbed, the poison can cause paralysis. Antivenom is available.

Signs and symptoms

  • immediate intense, spreading pain
  • swelling and discoloration around the sting
  • sweating and confusion
  • muscle weakness and paralysis
  • breathing difficulty

First aid treatment

  1. Seek medical help urgently, so that antivenom can be given if necessary.
  2. Bathe the affected area in hand-hot water to help relieve pain, but pain relief by injection will usually be needed.
  3. Monitor breathing and begin expired air resuscitation (EAR) if necessary.

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