WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - This week's sunny skies and warm temperatures have made for a great stretch of beach weather. However, there have been a rise in one particular marine animal hanging out along our shores.
Stingrays are commonly seen in coastal waters buried in the sand, only needing to move with the sway of the tide. These timid, shellfish-eating cousins of the shark inflict excruciating pain on thousands of swimmers in the United States each year, including a handful of injuries just this week.
Outreach Coordinator at the Fort Fisher Aquarium, Any Gould, said, "They love to eat things like shrimp, clams, worms…anything they can find along the ocean bottom."
And, no… Gould isn't describing a seafood lover. He's talking about stingrays.
Gould explained, "They love to swim around right there near the shore and in tidal creeks behind the islands, so basically anywhere you're swimming around, you could be near stingrays."
These creatures sure are cruising along the shores of southeast North Carolina beaches, especially now during the warm, summer months.
Wrightsville Beach Ocean Rescue Captain, Jeremy Owens, said, "Yesterday, we had six stringray punctures on the beach. We transported one individual to the hospital."
That's right. Six stings in one day!
Owens said, "That's the most we've ever seen in one day, for sure."
Several more reports of the unfriendly stingray encounters came in today. Owens said people should be weary of the rays' powerful barb that can cause serious injuries.
Owens added, "If you're having difficulty breathing, tightness of the throat, an allergic reaction, that's a medical emergency and you need to call 911. If you're out at the beach, come up to one of the lifeguards. We'll soak your foot or whatever has been stung in warm water to help alleviate the pain."
If you're one of the many who want to go enjoy the cool waters of the Atlantic Ocean, W.B. Ocean Rescue officials and lifeguards have one simple tip for you to scare away those stingrays. It's called the Stingray Shuffle!
Gould said when the stringrays hear the sand kicking up, they'll swim away and mind their own business.
Gould added, "They're out there looking for food. They're not out there to come and sting us. That's just their defense if we come too close and have any interaction like that, but they're definitely not aggressive."
Gould also listed several reasons stingray stings have been on the rise. He said stingrays are more active in warmer waters, there are more people in the water enjoying their summer, and there has been a noticeable drop in the population of sharks in our area, which are the stingray's main predator.