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Coffin ray will knock you sideways with its electric jolt

HE’LL MAKE YOU JUMP: The numbfish or coffin ray – an example of which (above) John Quarry photographed after it washed up on Airforce Beach, Evans Head – is renowned for packing a pretty solid electric shock.
HE’LL MAKE YOU JUMP: The numbfish or coffin ray – an example of which (above) John Quarry photographed after it washed up on Airforce Beach, Evans Head – is renowned for packing a pretty solid electric shock.

READER John Quarry was curious about this critter he photographed after it washed up on Airforce Beach at Evans Head last week.

It's a numbfish or coffin ray (Hypnos monopterygium), renowned for packing a pretty solid electric shock. I waded within about five metres of a hooked one many years ago in Wallaga Lake, on the South Coast, and we all felt through the water something like periodic jolts from an electric fence.

I've seen coffin rays in the Evans River, a haven for all sorts of rays. I saw this one on the beach and it was a whopper, around the maximum size of 60cm.

The Australian Museum says the electric organs are located at the base of the pectoral fins and are capable of generating shocks of more than 1000 volts and 50 amps - way more than you get from mains power.

The ray shocks crabs, worms and quite large fish prior to swallowing them whole through its cavernous gob.

But, the museum's website says, their diet is not restricted to these. There are records of numbfish swallowing rats and even penguins.

a numbfish or coffin ray
a numbfish or coffin ray

As with all rays, if you hook one it's best to cut the line as close to the mouth as is safely possible and let the hook rust out.

The sting from even the smallest ray can pack an awful punch.

I stepped on a common stingaree that hit me at Shark Beach at Evans on Christmas Eve, 1993 while swimming in murky water.

The barb struck at the base of the second toe and felt like a jab from a nail - and then somebody connected it to a power socket!

The small wound bled profusely and hurt immediately, about a 7 on a scale of 10 (with a kidney stone the undisputed 10).

I followed the standard first aid of frequently soaking the foot in hot water and even applied the old Fijian trick of chewing on the white stem of a young pandanus leaf and spitting the stuff into the water.

I don't know whether the pandanus made any difference clinically but the taste temporarily took my mind off the pain!

Topics:  editors picks, fishing, outdoor-living




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