CLEARWATER — Stingray season has definitely begun, and lifeguards say it's time for beachgoers to do the "stingray shuffle."
Just in the last week, six people have been stung by stringrays on Clearwater Beach.
None of the stings were fatal, said Patrick Brafford, water safety supervisor of the Clearwater Beach Patrol. But the poisonous barb of a stingray can be excruciating.
Stingrays are attracted to warm waters. Last year, they were spotted off local beaches as early as March. The season is expected to last through August.
A stingray uses its barb as a weapon if it feels threatened. To avoid interrupting a fun day in the sun, Brafford tells beachgoers to shuffle their feet in the water.
"Instead of picking your feet up as you step, you slide your feet across the sand," he said. "The vibration scares them. They don't want to be bothered. They want to be in an area by themselves."
Other tips: Watch where you're stepping, and ask a lifeguard about water conditions.
If stung, signal for help. Lifeguards or medics will first clean the wound with sterile water or alcohol. The final step is to relieve the pain by applying hot water.
"If they have no adverse effects and no signs of allergies, then we release them," Brafford said of beachgoers who get stung. "If they do have some kind of allergy, then we'll transport them right away for advanced care to a fire station right on the beach."
Clearwater lifeguard Timothy O'Keefe was stung during a lifeguard training session last year. His first reaction: be the "tough guy."
"I ran back to (the main lifeguard station) and right there I immediately put it in hot water and then (the pain) started radiating all the way to my groin and that's where it really started bothering me," he said.
O'Keefe said his first mistake was moving, allowing his blood to pump harder and carry the poisonous toxins through his body quicker. "It feels like it was a knife that went right into you," he said.
"My leg felt like it was on fire all the way up to my groin for the whole day."
Diedra Rodriguez can be reached at (727)445-4154 or [email protected]