Stingrays common around Singapore and are known to be docile unless disturbed: Experts

SINGAPORE – Stingray sightings are a common occurrence in the waters around Singapore and they are known to be docile unless disturbed, said experts who were responding to reports of two recent incidents involving the creatures at Sentosa beaches.

A Sentosa Development Corporation (SDC) spokesman on Monday (April 5) confirmed with The Straits Times that its beach patrol officers responded with first-aid assistance to two beachgoers who reported marine stings on March 28.

One of them was Mr Benjamin Koellmann, who spent three days recovering at the Singapore General Hospital after he was stung by a stingray during a family outing at Tanjong Beach in Sentosa on March 28.

He shared his account through a post on the Facebook group Nature Society (Singapore) last Saturday (April 3), saying that he had unwittingly stepped on the creature when he and his family were in the sea that day.

SDC, which said that its beach patrol officers conduct regular surveillance of the island’s beaches and waters, urged the public to be vigilant and take precautions when swimming at the beaches, since stingrays are common in Singapore.

Dr Tan Heok Hui, an ichthyologist at the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, said that animals use their barbed stings for defensive purposes.

“In this case, when the ray was stepped upon, it raised its tail and its sting, which is located near the base of the tail, is pushed upwards and forwards, piercing the offensive object – which was the person’s foot – to drive it off,” he said.

Dr Tan noted that the site of the wound appeared small and low at the ankle, which could suggest that it was likely a small species of stingray, or a younger stingray.

“If this had been a larger stingray or an adult one, the wound could be higher up, in a less bony part of the leg, to which the barbed sting could be embedded deeper and cause a more grievous wound,” he added.

This might have required surgery to remove the barbed sting, he noted.

Stingrays usually appear in three kinds of habitats: mangrove and coastal habitats, coral reef habitats, and silty bottom habitats that are usually in deeper waters.

Dr Tan said that the highly turbid waters of Singapore’s coastal habitats makes it difficult to spot aquatic life such as stingrays, even when they appear in shallow water.

Mr Benjamin Koellmann said that he stepped on a stingray when he was in the waters at Tanjong Beach on March 28, 2021. PHOTOS: BENJAMIN KOELLMANN/FACEBOOK

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National University of Singapore marine biologist Huang Danwei said that stingrays are docile animals which generally do not attack unless they are being handled or physically disturbed. Even then, their first instinct would be to swim away if given the chance.

People should therefore be more mindful when stepping into the water and avoid going too close to where they may be hiding, such as between rock crevices or underneath rocks and corals.

“Walk slowly and don’t venture into murky waters. If you must move and can’t see what you’re stepping on, take slow cautious steps and shuffle your feet before advancing.

“If you see a stingray close by or feel movement under your feet, move away in one decisive motion, as stingrays cannot predict our movements if we move erratically.  So they may feel threatened and respond by stinging.”

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