Ocean animals are so cool. They are the most alien of creatures that can be found here on earth, and for most of us: they are why we go diving in the first place. What is even cooler is being able to pick up and interact with these animals, but interaction must be done carefully and considerately. Many people choose to not touch any marine life whatsoever. They remain neutrally buoyant and glide over the reefs exchanging glances with the animals. I have nothing but respect for this attitude in the water, and for those who are new or just don’t know how to interact with the animals respectfully, just looking is a fine way to enjoy your dive. However, I am more hands on and many divers like the personal interaction they get by touching the animals, but I see lots of bad choices being made when it comes to wildlife handling. So in the interests of both us and the wild animals, I present : Good Touch, Bad Touch
There are many animals out there you do NOT want to touch for your own safety. Some of these are pretty obvious.
Touching these animals will quickly lead to bodily harm. Sharks, eels, and many other animals will bite if they feel threatened, and yes the first thing they feel when you approach is threatened. Other animals like sea urchins are just big balls of very sharp spines. Do not hug sea urchins it will only end badly.
Other animals are just as dangerous, but maybe not so obviously
|Scorpionfish, lionfish, stonefish, and others have venomous spines that will cause pain, paralysis, and in extreme cases death to humans. Most of these fish look like the bottom and can be difficult to spot. They are a good reason to move slowly in the water and look carefully before you touch anything, even the bottom.|
|Triton’s Trumpet Snail|
Some snails can be deadly too. Be careful collecting shells, most marine snails have a specialized radula that acts as a harpoon to spear and poison predators and prey. The picture above shows the opening in the snail’s shell for the radula. Cone shells are particularly dangerous as some of them have toxins strong enough to cause permanent nerve damage and even death. There is no ‘safe’ place to hold a cone shell. Their radula can be 1.3 times longer than their shell. The strength of the toxin varies from species to species, but unless you are a marine biologist, stay clear. You don’t want to be the guy killed by a snail.
Most sea stars can be safely handled. They have a tough armored skin that makes it nearly invulnerable to human hands. There are times when a sea star is feeding and has its stomach extruded from the center of its body. If you find a star in this state be careful with the stomach tissue, wait for it to retract it into its body before excessive handling and do not remove it from the water. One must also remember to return the sea star right side up as close as possible to where it was picked up. Other animals related to sea stars, such as sea cucumbers and short spined urchins, can be handled in a similar fashion.
|Collector urchin and its prized possessions|
In order to delicately handle an octopus, one needs to understand its mindset. Nearly everything in the ocean eats octopus and his first reaction upon seeing you is to flee so that you don’t eat him too. In his defense, he may swim away quickly, bury himself under rocks, or even ink. It does not hurt the animal to ink, dogs bark, octopus ink. Very little is scientifically known about the inking process, such as how long it takes to refill the ink sack, or even how much ink their actually is; but chances are that in the time you spend interacting with the octopus, he won’t run out of ink. In fact, small octopus ink like crazy, much more than larger ones. It seems like the only trick they know.