Friends and foe in Clew Bay waters
John Paul Tiernan
We paint quite the blissful picture of marine life here; considerate crustaceans pausing for examination by curious biologists, obliging fish waiting patiently for a snorkeller to enter the shallows and so on.
For some, however, the abiding marine life moment of Summer 2010 will be a sore memory, as they never imagined a trip to the beach on a glorious day could conclude so very ingloriously – sitting by the lifeguard’s hut with a swollen red foot in a bucket of boiling water.
That’s the proverbial insult to the injury of a weever fish sting, the incidence of which rises in August each year, not because there are more of them, rather because there are more of us.
The weever fish (Echiichthys vipera) spends most of its time buried in the sand around the low tide mark, and unfortunately for us, with its poisonous dorsal fin pointing straight up waiting for a shrimp or small fish – or an unintended surfer, body-boarder or swimmer.
Weever fish stings are more likely at spring tides, when lower water allows us to be further down the beach in weever territory.
The venom has only taken one person so far, and that was a long time ago in England. It’s still quite painful though and requires immediate immersion in water as hot as can be tolerated to breakdown the proteins in the venom, and kill the pain.
Things can go the other way at the beach of course and when it’s good, wildlife-wise, it can be very good. Like last night, we were out surfing when we got a lot more than the good waves that had been promised. A half hour before sunset, a pod of bottlenose dolphins stole quietly from the deep into the waters around us, gently breaking the surface to announce their presence and eventually, after 20 minutes or so, joining in with the wave-riding. This they do rather well, as they effortlessly match the waves’ speed with their powerful tail propulsion and authority of movement.
Why they do this is another question. They are animals with deeply complex social and intelligent workings which need stimulation (the humans who indulge in this activity might argue the same), so a likely answer would be found somewhere there.
They come inshore year-round but late August and early September always seem to be a good time to share a wave with them at a Mayo beach.