Steer clear of potentially deadly stingrays off southern France, bathers warned
Posted On July 18, 2020
Côte d’Azur authorities have issued a warning to beware of potentially deadly stingrays spotted by the dozen off France’s southern coast this summer due to unusually warm waters.
The rays spend most of their life in the open water and it is very unusual to see them so close to the shore.
In a warning issued this week, the southern Var region’s state prefect advised bathers off the Mediterranean coast not to approach or touch the purple rays and to inform local authorities if they spot any specimens, which can grow to up to 1.3m (4.3ft) long and 60cm (23in) in width.
Rarely encountered except by fishery workers, the pelagic stingray can inflict a severe, even fatal wound via up to three venomous spines on its tail.
The usually dark purple ray can “charge and sting if it feels in danger,” warned the prefect’s office.
The sting “can provoke serious neurological problems among vulnerable individuals, namely children, pregnant women and the elderly with health (heart) problems,” it warned.
While the venom was generally “not deadly for a healthy adult, it requires emergency hospitalisation, notably to remove the spine,” said the prefect.
Over the past month, scores of pelagic stingrays, whose Latin name is Pteroplatytrygon violacea, have been sighted along the southern French coast – on the Côte d’Azur but also the island of Corsica, off Marseille, Canet-en-Roussillon and right up to the Spanish border in Collioure.
“I was swimming around 15 metres from the shore in very clear water. Looking down I saw a massive, dark form with a long tail gliding beneath me and staying very near the sandy bottom,” one bather in Collioure, Sabine Hourdin, told the Telegraph.
“It gave me a shock. Others with masks told me to be careful because they sting and said they’d seen lots more.”
According to Var authorities, the stingrays’ presence was a “rare situation linked to the high temperatures where the sea can reach 28 degrees Celsius near the shore" as they normally remain in the open sea.
Experts say they believe the recent heatwave had prompted female rays seeking warmer waters to lay their eggs in the shallows.
“I’ve never received so many calls than over the last three days. The presence of rays near the coastline is abnormal,” said Nicolas Ziani, marine biologist at the Phocean Shark Research Group.
He warned against any "alarmism", saying that the stingrays were “not an aggressive species” and nobody had been stung since the recent sightings. But he said the rays should not be approached as the venom could cause paralysis.
The pelagic stingray is the only type that almost exclusively inhabits the open ocean.
It is recognisable by the wedge-like shape of its pectoral fin disc, which is much wider than long, as well as by the pointed teeth in both sexes, whip-like tail with extremely long tail spine, and uniform violet to blue-green colour.
Once endangered, surveys in the Pacific suggest that pelagic stingray numbers have increased since the 1950s, possibly due to intensive fishing of their natural predators – sharks and tuna.
As a result, they are listed by the International Unit for Conservation of Nature as of “least concern”.