Controversial stingray ‘rescue’ from shrinking rock pool divides Aussies

The stingray was found trapped in a small rock pool.

A stingray "rescue mission" that has been praised by some has since been the source of heated debate from others arguing it did "more harm than good".

In footage posted online, an Aussie exploring rock pools next to a beach in Wollongong, NSW found two rays stuck in one of the shallow pools left by high tide - one stingray and what appears to be a shovelnose ray which had sadly already passed away. "His buddy [the shovelnose ray] was already gone by the time we showed up," a woman named Amy shared online alongside the video.

The unnamed man used his bucket hat to wrap around his hand as protection and after spending some time trying to catch the stingray, he lifted it out of the water by the very end of its tail so he could carry it over to the edge of the rocks and release it back into the ocean. The tail was "slippery" which meant he had to drop it a few times before making his way to the water's edge.

On left, close up image of stingray appearing to have scratches along its spine from the rocks. Right image of man trying to carry stingray using the end of its tail to rescue it.
The stingray appeared to have scratches along its spine from the rocks. Source: TikTok

Debate over whether the man should have rescued it

Both Aussies and experts are divided over whether the rescue should have been done in the first place. Online, multiple people shared their concerns about the act. "This guy did more harm than good to the stingray, he stressed it out and hurt it when the tide was going to come in soon anyway. Shameful," one person wrote.

"You would think people would learn to leave these animals alone. It will swim out on first high tide anyway," another said, to which poster Amy responded by arguing the high tide was not going to reach that spot.

Experts in the field said that while the man "had good intentions", they would generally not recommend touching a stingray.

"While he did take care to wrap his hat around the tail, picking up stingrays is dangerous and can lead to serious injury. It also probably stressed the stingray out further!" Doctor Tina Skinner from the University of Queensland told Yahoo News Australia.

"Stingray tail spines are very painful if they stab you, so I would not be handling that ray in that way — it would have swum out once the tide comes in," Professor Ian Tibbetts from the University of Queensland agreed. "The most problematic aspect of this video is moving close to the rock edge when there are very large waves striking the shore."

Expert Jaelen Myers, completing a PhD in Marine Biology at James Cook University with a focus on stingrays, said the scratches on the ray's spine were concerning. "You can't fault people for looking at a ray stuck in a little pool and wanting to help it," she told Yahoo. The ray swimming around and scraping itself on the rocks probably wasn't great for it."

How did the stingray get there in the first place?

Myers says the stingray could have been looking for food in this area during high tide. "They like to be in shallow water and go there to feed," she said. "Then, when the water recedes they get stuck in pools."

Though, noting that there were two different rays seemingly in the same pool, anglers could have also been responsible, says Tibbetts. "There is another fish in the pool – the pale one. That is a shovel-nosed ray [and] having both a stingray and a shovel-nosed ray in the same rock pool – both sand-preferring species – is unusual," he said. "My guess is that they may have been caught by anglers and left in the pool."

What to do if you see a stingray in a rock pool

Myers warns that unless you have the right training and appropriate protective coverings for your hands, it is best to wait for the tide to do its thing or call an expert.

The stingray's spine, or barb, is located towards the base of the tail and is sharp as well as potentially venomous. Though Myer notes a minor injury from a barb is painful but relatively harmless in many cases.

"You could tell that the guy in the video was doing his best to hold on to the second half of the tail, far enough away from the body because the barb is near the body," she said. "Though, generally I would not grab and hold on to a ray by the second half of the tail because those are the fragile pieces of cartilage you could actually damage the tail."

Who to contact if you find an injured marine animal:

In NSW, it's recommended that if an injured marine animal is spotted to contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitated group or National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS). Similar services are available state by state Australia-wide.

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