Medicine for the Outdoors
Medicine for the Outdoors

Dr. Paul Auerbach is the world's leading outdoor health expert. His blog offers tips on outdoor safety and advice on how to handle wilderness emergencies.

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Slaughtering Stingrays

Although my blogs are about medicine for the outdoors and wilderness medicine, I feel compelled to comment upon the slaughter of stingrays in Australia, apparently in response to the untimely death of Steve Irwin, whose heart was punctured by a stingray that he approached too closely.

Perhaps the daily slaughter of scores of people in the Middle East and other areas of human conflict has some persons steeled against atrocities, but I am bothered by senseless killing of marine animals that are no more responsible for the death of Steve Irwin than are you and me. Even more reprehensible is the fact that some of the animals had their tails cut off, which one can only assume was done in retribution for the fatal sting inflicted upon the unfortunate late Crocodile Hunter.

Stingrays are not man-hunters. To my knowledge, they have only injured humans who have attempted to handle them, intentionally positioned body parts against their mouths, or approached them closely enough to provoke a defensive action. The last was the case with Mr. Irwin, who certainly meant no harm, but was caught in a tragic encounter. Underwater, stingrays are almost never aggressive; it is only when they are trapped, otherwise frightened, or captured that they become agitated. Indeed, some rays appear to enjoy the company of people, in that over time, they become habituated to our presence and will approach them closely in order to obtain food or, in the case of larger rays such as mantas, achieve body contact. The behavior of stingrays at Stingray City in the Cayman Islands is testimony to the normal docile behavior of these animals. I don’t pretend to know what a ray is thinking, or if it is even capable of thought, but I am fairly confident that the reactions of these animals represents at most indifference to humans, and perhaps some form of piscine curiosity.

Killing wild animals for the sake of trophies, excitement, sport, or any other non-utilitarian purpose makes no sense. It is a form of wilderness depradation. I am not a expert conservationist, but I am certain that mutilating stingrays in apparent revenge is inhumane, cowardly, and foolish. Even if it is driven by strong emotion like outrage or grief, it is shallow and uncaring, callous in a manner that calls for strong rebuke. A person that would cut off the tail of a stingray and cause it to perish for no good reason is not accomplishing anything good, and is only making a sad situation worse.

Every man and woman should cherish the diversity of animals on this planet and do everything possible to promote wildlife preservation. The same is true for our plants, forests, mountains, and oceans. Without the wilderness, there is no wilderness medicine.

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photo of manta ray by Paul Auerbach
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About the Author

Dr. Paul S. Auerbach is the world’s leading authority on wilderness medicine.