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Dangerous Australian
- Aquatic Holiday


by Emily Simpsons

Newspapers love those big headlines, 'Crocs attack drunk locals'1 and 'stung by box jelly'2. Those headlines got me thinking of all the 'deadly creatures' we have in Australia - although in current Australian idiom by 'deadly' we Don't mean 'excellent', far from it, some are 'deadly' because of the extreme pain and possible death, that they can inflict.

This wonderful country of Australia is also home to some of the most dangerous of creatures, some found nowhere else in the world. Some of these are found in the waterways and seas around Australia, whilst others can be found in the backyard and homes of many Australians. So for those planning a holiday down-under, here is a look at our many 'Dangerous Australians'.

Like any country, Australia has it share of creatures that can prove dangerous or fatal. Some not known to be dangerous, have only recently hit the spot light, killing one of Australia's national celebrity and wildlife warrior, Steve Irwin.

Whilst working on a documentary, in the famed Queensland Great Barrier Reef region, Steve Irwin was killed by a freak stingray attack whilst diving off Port Douglas. This rare attack, has been discussed endlessly, with the conclusions being that it was mainly a defence mechanism by a creature in its own environment.

Another creature that gets a lot of bad press is the 'Great White', more commonly known as the 'white pointer' shark. In Australia, surfers seem to be the main targets, although there have been recorded attacks on people just swimming in waist-deep water. Back in 2004, papers reported that South Australia was a shark-killing hotspot3. Although in April 2008 there was a fatal shark attack on a teenage surfer in northern New South Wales, which appears to be the culmination of a number of non-fatal attacks and shark sightings in the region over the previous year. Prior to this, the last recorded fatal shark attack in Australia was on January 7, 2008, when a young woman who was swimming in waist-high water off North Stradbroke Island in Queensland, was mauled by up to three bull sharks, which ripped both her arms from her body and bit into her torso and legs4.

Don't think you are safe swimming in Victoria, as all states in Australia have recorded shark attacks. And remember, not all of them were 'Great Whites'. Sadly these days, it appears that sharks have more to fear from humans, especially as their fins are in high demand.

Whilst in the ocean, you will need to take care that you Don't brush up against, Australia's most dangerous creature, the 'Box Jellyfish' (also known as a Sea Wasp). Whole coastlines can be closed during the summer months in northern Queensland, from a 'marine stinger' that can inflict searing pain, prominent scars and if severe enough, can also be fatal. With tentacles that can reach up to 3 metres in length, the Box Jellyfish is responsible for more deaths in Australia than snakes, sharks and salt water crocodiles put together.

These of course are not the only jellyfish, with research discovering a much smaller jelly fish, the Irukandji, occupying a larger ocean area that includes the Great Barrier Reef. At barely 2 cm and smaller in diameter, the initial pain is only moderately painful, with the real agony happening 30 minutes later. Deaths have been recorded.

Distributed throughout Australia's beaches, the Blue Bottle or Portuguese Man o' War, although not technically a jellyfish, can still deliver painful stings from the tentacles, even when found washed up on the beach. In extreme cases, medical attention may be needed.

Blue Ringed Octopus
Considered by some as the fourth most dangerous creatures, following the Salt Water Crocodile, the Blue Ringed Octopus are common in marine waters around Australia, and can sometimes be found in rock pools, especially after the tide has receded. Pale brown to yellow in colour, the electric-coloured blue rings appear as a warning when the creature feels threatened, but by then if you have picked it up, it is too late. The salivary glands of one individual may contain enough venom to paralyse ten men. If resuscitation is not given when breathing difficulties and paralysis begins, the victim will fall unconscious and die from lack of oxygen. Death can occur within thirty minutes5.

Reef Stonefish
When is rock not a rock? When it is a Stone Fish. Also known as Rockfish or Goblinfish, this aquatic creature is one of Australia's deadly marine creatures. With perfectly camouflage skin, it has 13 grooved hypodermic-like spine in the dorsal fin, each capable of piercing a sandshoe, they are found living in river mouths and coral reefs, often around rocks, and can also be found in the mud or sand. The sting causes excruciating pain, with the severity of symptoms depending on the number of spines and how deep the spines have penetrated. Swelling rapidly develops with the death of the tissue area. Other symptoms include temporary paralysis, shock and death if not treated6.

Cone Shells
For those who like to handle shells, especially when scuba diving, several species of Cone Shells, also known as Cone Snails are dangerous with a number of human fatalities being attributed to them. A common fallacy is that grasping a cone at the 'large end' is safe, but, there is no safe way to hold cones, because the proboscis of the larger species is capable of reaching any part of the shell. They are even dangerous out of water7. So if you find one laying in a rock pool or washed up on the beach, don't automatically put it to your ear, as you may find more than the sound of the ocean inside.

Crocodiles seem to have attained an iconic status among tourist, and certainly makes headline news such as early this year when the 'MONSTER crocodile' came within a metre of making a meal of the 27 year-old Israeli tourist, who was leaning over the back of the dinghy posing for a photo8. It is strange but true, that after a Northern Territory crocodile attack makes the news, there is an increase in tourist numbers9. What is it about our lovable crocodile, beyond the crocodile handbags and croc burgers.

For those locals and tourist planning a camping trip in the far north, you are warned about the dangers of sleeping near the river bank in croc country. Make sure you read all signs. If the sign is marked 'DANGEROUS - DO NOT SWIM, CROCODILES LIVE HERE!', well you know what to expect. And just because you are in a tent, doesn't mean you are safe, as one family camping in far north Queensland can attest to when a croc dragged one of the occupants out10. Drunks are also more at risk of being chomped on by a croc, believe me it is not the beer that makes you tasty...11

So for those still planning to get up close to our resident reptile, a visit to a local crocodile farm or book yourself on one of the many tours, as a great way to see our salt water crocodiles up close.

Well, so much for our waterways, there are of course a number of other aquatic dangers not touched on here including sea snakes and lion fish, but I am sure you will be able to research them online. In part 2 of this article we will reveal our other 'dangerous Australians'.

Please note, this article has been prepared, not to scare, but to inform.

Crocodile in the Northern Territory (Dangerous Australian)

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Other Links


1 Crocs attack drunk locals - NT News 14 March 2008
2 Sssseen It! Deadly snake on loose for a week in cinema - NT News Thursday, April 24, 2008
3 South Australia a shark-killing hotspot, says expert - Sydney Morning Herald, December 16, 2004
4 First fatal shark attack in two years - April 08, 2008
5 Crustaceans and Molluscs > Blue-ringed Octopus (PDF 186 Kb) - Queensland Museum
6 Dangerous marine animals of Northern Australia - Stone Fish - Australian Institute of Marine Science
  Reef Stonefish - Fishes Australian Museum Fish Site
7 Crustaceans and Molluscs > Cone Shells (PDF 231 Kb) - Queensland Museum
8 G'day Bait! - NT News 5 March 2008.
9 Tourist love rogue crocs - NT News 26 December 2007
10 Woman, 60, saves camper from crocodile attack - Sydney Morning Herald, October 12, 2004
11 Crocs attack drunk locals - NT News 14 March 2008
Crocodile in the Northern Territory (Dangerous Australian)

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