Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Dangerous Sea Creatures

Where ever there's beauty, there also lurks danger. No matter where you swim in Yakushima, there are dangers to watch out for: River rapids with recirculating currents, riptides in unregulated beaches, and a myriad of sea creatures. You can minimize the dangers by swimming with others in designated sites, and whether you are snorkeling in open water, splashing around with the kids in a swimming area, or just gazing into the tide pools, there are some creatures which you may be lucky enough to see, but should definitely avoid touching. If you're not sure, look, but don't touch.

Striped Eel Catfish (Gonzui)
By Izuzuki ( [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
I've put these guys first because they are so common. Schools of little striped fish swimming so tightly together they look like a solid ball often about the size of your head . . . a ball of poisonous spines! Although these are pretty common around the island, I've never had any trouble with them. Just don't try to pet them.

Sea Snakes (Umihebi)
I spotted this guy in Kurio.

These beautiful blue-and-black striped snakes are usually docile. However, I hear that their venom is as deadly as cobra venom!

Cone Snails (Amboina)
Textile cone
By Photographer: Richard Ling ( (Location: Cod Hole, Great Barrier Reef, Australia) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Shell collectors steer clear of live shells in the cone family. Cones like the textile cone (top) and the geographic cone are infamous for possessing a barb that can stick you with a barb and inject lethal amounts of paralysing venom. Other less famous cones, such as the tulip cone (bottom), should also be avoided.

Lionfish (Minokasago)
Pterois lunulata
By syu-1 ( [CC BY-SA 2.1 jp (], via Wikimedia Commons
Beautiful from a distance. They are considered an invasive species in the Atlantic, and while one solution to the invasion is to eat them, their spines contain venom.

Portuguese Man-of-War (Katsuo no Eboshi)
Portuguese Man-O-War (Physalia physalis)
See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons"><img alt="Portuguese Man-O-War (Physalia physalis)
I think most of us know to avoid waters where jellyfish or man-of-war are floating about. Not just the live ones, but also the tentacles of dead man-of-war washed up on the beach after a storm can sting.

Bottom dwellers:
If you're at a sandy swimming beach, these things aren't so much of a problem, but especially if you're snorkeling, you should watch where you put your feet.
Please, folks, don't stand on the coral. This is inconsiderate of living corals, and also dangerous. In case you're worried about getting tired and needing to stand up while snorkeling, why not put some fins on your feet that will help you with propulsion, or at least some old shoes with cushy soles that will keep your feet afloat?
There's a bunch of nasty things you don't want to stand on, and sharp rocks are just the beginning. While some sea urchins are quite a delicacy, none are pleasant to step on. Not always floating frills and tentacles, jellyfish polyps of the genus Stephanoscyphus may be attached to coral or sponges. What appears to be a placid spot of coral may not be so defenceless. Some things to watch for include sea fansanemones and bristle worms hidden among the coral.

The Yakushima Environment and Cultural Center book, 屋久島の海辺生き物ガイド, also warns about these two curious creatures which I have not been (un)fortunate enough to meet:

Stonefish (Onidaruma Okaze)
Reef0915 - Flickr - NOAA Photo Library
By David Burdick. (NOAA Photo Library: reef0915) [CC BY 2.0 ( or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
I'm not sure if I would spot this fish if it was half a meter from my face, but apparently they have poisonous spines that can be deadly if stepped on.

Blue-Ringed Octopus (HyoumonDago)
David Breneman at en.wikipedia [GFDL (, CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0 (], from Wikimedia Commons
Beautiful, yes, but their saliva is oh so deadly.

Still want to go swimming? Of course you do! With warm waters and a mix of tropical and cold water fish, Yakushima is a great place to explore the ocean. Just remember, don't touch things if you don't know what they are!

*Copyright note: I've used several images from the Wikimedia Commons. Images without listed copyright information are my own.

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