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January 2008    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 34, No. 1   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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When Needlefish Attack

from the January, 2008 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Needlefish are common in all waters divers visit. Their habitat is commonly just inches below the surface, and though they’ve never been considered as dangerous, two recent incidents are chilling.

Last September, a 16-year-old boy died after being stabbed through the heart by a needlefish as he was diving for sea cucumber in northern Vietnam’s Halong Bay. Duong Trong Anh was six feet below the surface when the three-foot needlefish stuck its bill into his chest then pulled it out. Anh died shortly after. Investigators believe the fish might have been startled by Anh and tried to swim away but accidentally stabbed him.

Closer to the U.S., a foot-long needlefish speared Deborah Berry, 50, in the neck, while she was treading water in Hawaii’s Wailea Bay on Thanksgiving Day. At first she thought a snorkeler had bumped her, but her husband Greg saw the fish “skipping” across the water for 10 feet, hit Berry in the neck, pull back and swim away, leaving a gush of blood.

“Turns out he went in one side and penetrated all the way through, out the other side with his snout,” Berry wrote in an e-mail. “Couldn’t squeeze his body through, so wiggled back out the entry side. Just missed the carotid artery and trachea. Now I look like someone tried to slit my throat.”

Especially use caution when diving or swimming at night. While night swimming in Oahu’s Kahana Bay, Tonga Loumoli, 19, got hit in the stomach by a 4-foot crocodile needlefish, identified by a tooth the fish left behind. He had 45 stitches and spent a week in the hospital.

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