Go Ahead, Bite Me or at Least Try To!

I am most certainly have never hoped or planned to “go out” in a glory of false bravado with wildlife, but I think perhaps I have had more than my fair share of interactions with them.  I consider myself lucky for the privilege to co-exist with them.  They don’t always seem to see me eye to eye on that, but much more often than not a combination of mutual respect and being able to read their particular signs helps a lot.  So this is pretty much a list of my failures, rather than my successes…

To date I have:

  • Been nipped at by a harbor seal, which are like cats – aloof, and to be fair I had a fish in my hand to feed it, and it wanted it faster than I could get it out of my hands.  Sea lions however are like a large dog or cougar/mountain lion – big teeth, and not aloof – they come to play with you – and it is so cool – one of my favorite activities is to swim with sea lions in the wild, but take care if you get between a male and its female, or a female and its pup.  I know a diver who was bit in the shoulder, and had his collar-bone broken – but his fault, I don’t blame the animal at all.
  • Had my hand directly inside the mouth of an orca on many occasions, helping it when it was teething, and “me” being “its” play-toy for amusement.  Not a wild one, but an injured, and then eventually what I think was a mentally psychotic Orca.  Read the full story at How I Spent My Summer Vacation Vacuuming Up Orca Poop.
  • Been bitten on the hand by an Octopus Dofleini, which is the largest specifies of octopus in the world.  Octopi have the equivalent of a parrot’s beak at the center intersection of its tentacles, as it has the power of a crab-leg cracker, as crab is one of its favorite foods.  I once dumped a garbage can full of crab into a tank with a hungry Octopus Dolfleini, and it instantly dropped on top of the jumble of crab like an umbrella to contain them all underneath its legs and membranes, and then stayed in the same place for a solid week – an – all you can eat crab buffet – for 7 full days. Anyways, back to my story, this species of octopus is not deadly poisonous, but it does have some sort of chemical compound/venom it can secrete apparently, purported to calm down or paralyze, and help soften up and liquefy crab flesh, so its not quite an injection of venom, but more of a flooding of venom.  After been bitten, my whole arm started to hurt quite a lot, so into emergency I went just to get a second opinion.  We had some mutual amusement as the doctor looked up octopus bite in one of his medical books and quoted the entry on the poisonous Blue Ring Octopus.  We both concluded that since I hadn’t gone into total paralysis and stopped breathing within minutes, it probably wasn’t that or something related that would be serious, just some pain perhaps.  
    • FYI – the blue ring octopus is quite small (8″ max), and native to Australia, and unlikely to bite unless provoked.  But if a person is bit, one had better get onto land and get help ASAP. 
    • OPINION – I just watched a Nat Geo branded/sponsored TV show on the Giant Pacific Octopus – here on Vancouver Island where I live, and I was astounded at the inaccuracies and the dramatic exaggeration.  Sorry, but I grew up on Jacques Cousteau and National Geographic (okay and Sea Hunt too) on TV – As one of the co-inventor’s of the original aqua-lung (scuba) – he would be rolling in his grave about a Nat Geo TV show that said its divers used “oxygen” for dive between 10 and 30 meters.  Except in very extreme circumstances like very deep diving, or military/no-bubble oxygen re-breathers, Scuba divers breath “compressed air” because the partial pressures of the various gases that comprise the air we breath is very important.  Breathing pure oxygen is poisonous at depths over 10 meters for humans.   Similarly the opening line in the show about how the divers and researchers had “risked their lives” had me on the floor laughing..  there are no recorded attacks of Giant Pacific Octopus against humans on record, they have however been known to, and recorded on video. as attacking dogfish, and seagulls.  What would usually happen with a diver interacting with an octopus, it that it would crawl all over them trying only to find a leverage point to get away – but often putting it huge suckers on the divers mask – the drive would freak that his vision was suddenly now only octopus suckers and try to push the octopus away in panic.  Since the octopus was essentially glued to their mask, they just wound pushing their own mask off their pace – with the resultant panic.   I had wild octopus climbing all over my head and face.. best advice – just take it in stride – they are rarely aggressive, and will try to get off you and away from you as soon as they can.  Moral of this story is, that I kind of had it coming in terms of being bit, because I didn’t look carefully enough as to where I was putting my hand under that particular pile of rocks – which turned out to be an octopus’s den.
  • Been bitten in the forehead by a river otter..  they look so cute, they have so much fun and exuberance playing, and they will chomp you in a second if you get too close.  In my case I was a complete idiot.. I was at an aquarium in which a wild river otter was infiltrating on a nearly daily basis, catching fish to eat just the liver or other internal organs, and leaving the rest.  I heard it was in the tanks so I jumped in to find it..  I spotted it perched on a ledge and swam over to where I supposedly had “it” cornered..  this is so dumb, I actually grabbed it by the tail and tried to stuff it into a mesh bag..  the next thing I remember clearly is sitting back in the water, a bit dazed and stunned as the darn thing had bit me in the middle of my forehead… right through my wet-suit.   Ahh well, I needed a tetanus booster shot anyways..
  • Been chased by an angry wolf eel, I used my fins to dissuade it as I swam backwards as fast as I could
  • Came face to face with quite a poisonous sea snake while snorkeling over coral in Thailand.  Not wearing any kind of wet-suit to offer even a bit of protection, my ability to swim backwards while keeping the sea snake in front of me proved useful, and I was able to drag my female companion back with me.
  • Swam with sharks many many places, but none ever bit me.. although I did have a black tip reef shark make a charge at my speargun and take a freshly shot fish right off the end of the spear tip.  No fish dinner for me that evening.  I am still rethinking my recent episode of swimming with nurse sharks in Belize.  It was a snorkel trip to shark and ray alley out of Ambergris Caye, and they were chumming the water with chunks of bait to attract the local nurse sharks – the boat driver/guide said it was fine to jump in and swim with them, although I am the only one who did.  No problem for me, they swam in harmony right beside me, not even doing any runs to taste me..  but after the fact, I was thinking that maybe the time to get out was as soon as the chumming was finished.. no point in tempting any unsatisfied nurse sharks, even if the bite pattern measures pretty small in comparison to say a great white.  Simple rule, nurse sharks/leopard sharks/reef sharks – not particularly dangerous.  Be wary of Thresher sharks and most others species not mentioned here explicitly and watch for signs of aggression.  Bull sharks, Tiger sharks, and Great Whites top the list in terms of unprovoked attacks – any of these guys you don’t want to meet face to face or even accidentally.
    • Update: on my recent trip to Australia, besides diving the Great Barrier Reef, I made sure to investigate cage diving with great white sharks in the South… blog posting coming soon, but lets suffice to say that these are magnificent animals that scare the crap out of me… I was inches away, but protected by aluminum bars so no actual danger at all, but it was possible to start to observe their behaviors and feeding triggers.. and my conclusion so far is that they have no obvious “tell”.. they went from cruising along just like any other species of shark does, mostly doing their own thing, to going into bite/attack mode in less than a second, and with no pre-attack behavior that I could observe.
  • Been stung in the toe of all places, by a black Thai ant, up in Chiang Rai, Thailand.  I was waiting for the long-tail boat to Thaton (a very pleasant journey from Chiang Rai to Thaton down the Mae Kok river, I have done it both ways).. just wearing sandals and a large black ant decided to attack my toe.  I literally jumped up and hopped around on one foot – it hurt like hell – while all the Thai guys around laughed like hell that I had been stung.  Okay, in the scheme of things it was fair as I had eaten many of their kind over the years…  ant eggs are a delicacy in Northern Thailand, and I had also eaten huge red ants as a garnish in the lower part of North Eastern Thailand.  Delicious actually, they are sour and I love the sour flavour!
  • But the absolute worst of all, happened on a visit to Monterrico, Guatemala.  I had went down to one of the beach side restaurant/bars to catch the 2 for 1 margarita happy hour, and I was wearing a t-shirt, shorts and sandals because of the heat, and the bar was right beside the sand.  I spent less than a hour there, but it was more than enough.. what I found out the next morning when I woke up was that I had several hundred bites on my legs and feet from the knees down. I actually counted all the bites on one leg to come up with that number.  And they were incredibly itchy already.  The hotel had some lemons that I used the juice from to try to alleviate the itch, but it gave only momentary relief.  They also gave me some salve, but that didn’t work.  I was leaving that day, so while I was waiting for transport out, I started googling, and found out that the culprits were “sand fleas” most likely, and that it was going to stay itchy for a long time.  I found one reference online from another “victim” that they had used Windex to stop the incessant urge to scratch.. so I begged a bit from the cleaning lady and tried it out..  and it not only worked, it was good for hours of relief.  The bites lasted for weeks though, and I tried a variety of things, but Windex was always the best relief, and I carry a small bottle with me everywhere I go now!
  • Update – see my posting A Very Honeybadger like Experience