Continuing our series in conjunction with scuba.com – your one-stop-shop in North America for dive gear, snorkelling equipment, general watersports kit and much more, with a huge online presence and stores in New York City and Costa Mesa, CA – we've teamed up to compile a list of the most poisonous and dangerous marine sea creatures.
The ocean is home to millions of different species of wildlife. From the shores of beaches to the colourful coral reefs found around the world, the sea continues to be largely unexplored. In fact, an estimated nine million more species have yet to be discovered. While the ocean is home to many beautiful sea creatures, some of these animals are poisonous, dangerous, and are potentially deadly to humans. Here’s a look at 10 of the most poisonous marine animals, breaking down what exactly makes them so potentially dangerous.
Various species of the box jellyfish exist around the world. It primarily swims in the waters surrounding Australia, the Philippines, Hawaii, and Vietnam. While it may look harmless and innocent, this transparent invertebrate is one of the most poisonous sea creatures and has claimed the lives of more than 6,000 people.
The box jellies are also known as sea wasps. Their numerous tentacles contain venom that instantly stuns and kills its prey. Getting stung by one of these tentacles can cause heart failure. Most victims go into shock and drown once stung by box jellies. The pain from the venom can last for weeks, while parts of the body that made contact with the tentacles will have severe scarring.
Stonefish are found in the coastal reefs along the Indo-Pacific regions and are high up on our list of top poisonous creatures. Stonefish are highly camouflaged fish and secrete powerful neurotoxins from the base of their dorsal fin spine. This venomous spine is a defense mechanism to avoid predation and isn’t a hunting tool.
Their venom can cause heart failure, paralysis, and tissue death. It can also kill an adult person in less than an hour if left untreated. Make sure to be alert around rocks, seafloors, and coral reefs, as stonefish are most likely hiding around these areas.
The blue-ringed octopus is found in the Pacific, primarily among the shallows of Australia and Japan. Its diet consists mostly of crab and shrimp. Despite its small size, the blue-ringed octopus possesses a venomous bite. Like most venomous and poisonous sea animals, its beautiful display of colour is a warning sign to stay away.
Its venom contains tetrodotoxin, which is a type of neurotoxin that it releases through its salivary glands. This venom is 1,000 more potent than cyanide and can kill 26 adult humans within minutes. Since there’s currently no antivenom available for blue-ringed octopus venom, this animal is one of the most toxic sea creatures known to man.
Beaked Sea Snake (Enhydrina Schistosa)
The beaked sea snake (also known as the hooked-nosed sea snake) can be found off the coast of India, Australia, Africa, and the Arabian Sea. This snake is a non-aggressive creature and will only strike if provoked. The venomous bite of the beaked sea snake is eight times more toxic than that of a cobra. 1.5 milligrams of its venom is enough to kill a human, while a full dose can kill about 22 people.
The toxin attacks the muscles of the body and causes excruciating pain and death if untreated within 24 hours. The beaked sea snake can dive up to a 100m deep and remain underwater for up to five hours while hunting fish. This creature often gets caught in fisherman’s nets, accidentally poisoning humans and resulting in fatalities.
Marbled Cone Snail (Conus Marmoreus)
The brightly coloured shell of the marbled cone snail entices people to pick it up, not knowing that the animal is one of the most venomous sea creatures in the world. The marbled cone snail can be found in the waters of Okinawa, the southern tip of India, and the southeast section of New Caledonia and Samoa. The marbled cone snail uses its harpoon-like proboscis to strike its prey and would-be predators with a deadly mixture of neurotoxins.
It uses its deadly harpoon to paralyze its prey, devouring it at its own leisure. Getting stung by one of these cone snails can prove to be fatal, as the venom causes muscle paralysis and respiratory failure. There’s no anti-venom currently available for cone snail stings. Instead, various treatments can be administered until the toxin wears off.
Portuguese Man o’ War (Physalia physalis)
The Portuguese man-of-war is a highly venomous predator that is often seen floating around or washed up on shores. It is commonly mistaken for a jellyfish but is actually a siphonophore, or an animal made up of a colony of organisms functioning as one.
Man-of-wars were named as such due to their resemblance to 18th-century Portuguese warships. The second organism in this siphonophore is its long tentacles that extend up to 50 metres below the surface. These tendrils are covered in venom-filled nematocysts and entangle fish and small creatures, paralyzing and killing them for food. While man-of-war stings are rarely fatal to humans, they can still cause a lot of pain.
The pufferfish (or blowfish) is another poisonous fish that people should look out for. This fish species can inflate themselves when threatened, as their slow swimming makes them vulnerable to predators. Some species of pufferfish are also covered in spikes once inflated, making them more inedible to predators.
What makes these fish poisonous is the tetrodotoxin in their internal organs or skin. This neurotoxin makes the pufferfish taste foul when eaten, often leading to death. The toxin found in pufferfish is at least 1,200 times more poisonous than cyanide and can kill at least 30 adult humans, making this fish one of the most toxic sea creatures out there.
Striped Pyjama Squid (Sepioloidea Lineolata)
It may seem cute, but this colourful cephalopod packs a deadly secret. The Sepioloidea lineolata or striped pyjama squid is one of the few poisonous species of cephalopods. Contrary to its common name, it is actually a species of cuttlefish. Its glaring display of colour, like most marine animals, serves as a warning to predators that it is highly toxic and dangerous to eat.
The small glands under its skin produce venomous saliva that contains tetrodotoxin. Striped pyjama squids live in shallow coastal waters, usually camouflaging themselves under sand or mud. These cuttlefish can be found from the southern Great Barrier Reef up the waters of central South Australia.
Striped like a tiger, the lionfish gets its name from its ornate, mane-like spines and tentacles. Its venom is strong enough to cause extreme pain and discomfort and can be fatal for vulnerable populations, like the very young and the very old. Though native to the coastal regions in the south Pacific and Indian Oceans, the lionfish is now a booming invasive species in the southeastern United States and the Caribbean.
Barely larger than a match head, this tiny jellyfish is nonetheless one of the most dangerous sea creatures. The venom of the Irukandji jellyfish is 100 times more potent than a cobra’s and can cause severe discomfort and death if not treated. Its primary habitat is far off the northern coast of Australia but warmer waters are causing it to drift closer to shore and further south.
These are just a few of the many poisonous and dangerous sea creatures that make their home in areas where humans enjoy scuba diving. Participants simply need to remember that they are visitors in the home of these creatures. The risks are very slight – treat them with respect, keep your distance and you should be able to look forward to many future safe and successful dives.