Outdoors, action, adventure

Category: Swimming

Fish and Game Q&A: What are the creepy leech-like things in lakes and rivers?

Leech-like organisms often found in lakes and ponds are part of the aquatic food chain, providing food for fish, ducks, turtles and some birds. In support of the California Department of Fish and Game and its effort to keep hunters and anglers informed, Outposts, on Thursday or Friday, posts marine biologist Carrie Wilson's weekly Q&A column:

Question: My daughter and I love to swim and play in waters wherever we find them. While in French Gulch (Shasta County) last year, we decided to play around in Clear Creek. The creek was running pretty high, but when my daughter and I got out we had these black, worm-like things hanging off us. Our first thought was leeches, which got us out of the water quite quickly! Someone told me they were rock worms and wouldn’t hurt us. We haven’t returned there though because we’re still too scared they were leeches.

We also stopped at Eagle Lake (Lassen County) to go swimming and ended up with these tiny little round slime balls on us. When picking up these slimy things in question, they flattened out on our hands and started slithering like a leech across our hands. This was another trip where my daughter and I ran screaming out of the water to rinse off under the faucet! There were lots of people swimming in the lake who either didn’t seem to notice or else knew something we didn’t.

Clear Creek was a very cold creek, but Eagle Lake was very warm, so I could understand Eagle Lake possibly having leeches. Do these leeches suck human blood? Are they harmful to humans in any way? I love the outdoors and swimming, but too many encounters with creepy leech-like things are making me leery about the safety of it. (Kim B.)

Answer: Without pictures, it’s tough to say, but it sounds like you encountered two different invertebrates. According to Department of Fish and Game associate fish pathologist Garry Kelley, the organism at Clear Creek was likely a free-living caddisfly larvae (Genus Rhyacophila), commonly known as a rock worm. This type of caddisfly crawls around rock bottoms in search of food and is commonly eaten by trout. Caddisflies are not at all harmful to humans.

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U.S. led the world in shark attacks last year

Great white shark prowls the waters near Guadalupe Island off Baja California.

The U.S. led the world again in the number of shark attacks last year, according to a University of Florida report released this week.

Worldwide, 79 attacks occurred in 2010 -- the highest number since 2000 (80) -- with 36 reported in the United States. Australia was second with 14, then South Africa with eight and Vietnam and Egypt with six each.

While Florida led the nation with 13 reported attacks, this total was significantly lower than the state's yearly average of 23 over the past decade.

"Florida had its lowest total since 2004, which was 12," said George Burgess, director of the International Shark Attack File at the university. Florida typically has the highest number of attacks worldwide, but 2010 marked the state’s fourth straight year of decline, Burgess said. "Maybe it’s a reflection of the downturn in the economy and the number of tourists coming to Florida, or the amount of money native Floridians can spend taking holidays and going to the beach."

Of those attacks in the U.S. outside of Florida, five were in North Carolina, with four each in California, Hawaii and South Carolina. There were single attacks in Georgia, Maine, Oregon, Texas, Virginia and Washington.

Surfers were the victims of slightly more than half of the incidents reported worldwide in 2010, nearly 51% of the cases. An economic downturn will usually influence tourists but not necessarily surfers, whose sport is relatively low-cost, Burgess said.

Swimmers and waders were the second-largest group affected, accounting for nearly 38% of the shark attacks internationally.

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Quadruple amputee swims across English Channel


Philippe Croizon, a quadruple amputee from France, has successfully swum across the English Channel.

The Associated Press reports that Croizon, 42, departed from Folkestone on the British side of the channel and arrived near the French town of Wissant late Saturday. At the narrowest point, the crossing is about 21 miles, and Croizon had expected the effort to take as long as 24 hours to complete. However, he finished in about 13 1/2 hours.

"I did it. I'm happy, I'm so happy, I can't believe it. It's crazy," Croizon told France-Info radio on his arrival.

Croizon lost his arms and legs in a 1994 electrical accident when a television antenna he was adjusting while standing on a ladder touched a power line.

His specially designed prosthetic legs end in flippers, which allow him to propel himself through the water while using his upper arms in the motions of the crawl. He breathes using a snorkel.

During a portion of the crossing, Croizon was joined by a trio of dolphins.

"We took that as a sign of good luck," said Croizon's father, Gerard.

-- Kelly Burgess

Photo: Philippe Croizon swims off La Rochelle, France, on May 27. Credit: Pierre Andrieu / AFP/Getty Images

Woman dies after being stung by Portuguese man-of-war

Portuguese man-of-war. A woman swimming off of an Italian beach died after being stung by a Portuguese man-of-war and having an apparent allergic reaction. The case is thought to be the first of its kind in Europe.

The Daily Mail reported Thursday that Maria Furcas, 69, was swimming with her sister at Porto Tramatzu beach in Sardinia, Italy, when she was stung by a Portuguese man-of-war.

Witnesses said that Furcas came out of the water, told a lifeguard what had happened and then collapsed on the beach after suffering what is believed to have been anaphylactic shock. Paramedics who rushed to the scene were unable to save her, and she died on the beach.

Some marine experts believe that Furcas is the first fatal case from a Portuguese man-of-war sting in the Mediterranean.

"We have had reports of Portuguese man-of-war ... throughout the summer all over the Mediterranean," Ferdinando Boero, a marine biology lecturer at the University of Salento, said. "There have been fatalities before, but only in far-off places such as Florida or Australia -- this is the first time I have heard of a fatality in the Mediterranean."

Furcas' death occurred just days after more than 700 people complained of stings when jellies swarmed beaches along Spain's Costa Blanca, and Boero contends that climate change has brought about an increase in the number of the creatures in the area.

The Portuguese man-of-war "has always been present in the Mediterranean, but now they are increasing in numbers due to global warming. You just need to be careful and if you see one while swimming stay away and obviously don't touch -- that goes for ones that are on the beach and dead because they can still sting."

-- Kelly Burgess

Photo: A Portuguese man-of-war. Credit: Southeastern Regional Taxonomic Center / South Carolina Department of Natural Resources

USLA National Lifeguard Championships taking place Thursday through Saturday at Huntington Beach

Competitors in the men's rescue board race reach the shore and begin their run to the finish line at the 2006 National Lifeguard Championships at Huntington State Beach.

More than 1,000 adult and youth lifeguards from across the nation are expected to compete for individual and team honors at the United States Lifesaving Assn. National Lifeguard Championships, taking place Thursday through Saturday at Huntington State Beach.

Professional lifeguards ranging in age from 18 to 75 and junior lifeguards age 9 to 17 will compete in water and beach-course events -- from surf swims to beach runs and paddleboards to surf boats -- that challenge their lifesaving skills.

"The National Lifeguard Championships is a unique athletic event showcasing aquatic safety professionals and the techniques they use every day," said B. Chris Brewster, president of the U.S. Lifesaving Assn. "These skills save lives. Beach lifeguard agencies reported more than 80,000 rescues from the surf last year, 55,000 of them in Southern California alone."

The competition, hosted by the Huntington State Beach Lifeguard Assn., begins at 8 a.m. daily and runs until the end of the day, and spectator admission is free. Some of the events scheduled include the Landline Rescue Relay, Ironman and Ironwoman events and Beach Flags, called "the fastest event on sand."

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Ocean swimmer Diana Nyad, 60, preparing for Cuba-to-Florida swim

Diana Nyad speaks onstage during the Salute To Women in Sports Awards. Nyad isn't letting her age stop her from attempting to swim 103 miles from Florida to Cuba. Sports columnist Bill Dwyre recently caught up with ocean swimmer Diana Nyad, who has some unfinished business -- 130 miles of it, in fact.

The 60-year-old is preparing for a long-distance swim from Cuba to Florida, hoping to leave Havana in the next few weeks, weather permitting. It is a swim Nyad attempted in 1978 but had to give up after 42 hours of struggling in huge waves.

Many have expressed concern that she will be swimming in shark-filled waters. Unlike her first attempt, Nyad will not have a shark cage nearby, instead relying on a newly developed electronic shark shield that has been tested in Australia.

"They put a bloody leg of a cow on a surfboard and then watched from a helicopter. Within minutes, hundreds of sharks came and just tore the thing apart," Nyad said. "Then they did the same thing with the shark shield device. Nearly 5,000 sharks were in the area, but none touched it."

Nyad, who will be 61 next month, had to wade through deep red tape to attempt the swim. The Los Angeles resident began her requests in January, and late last week received permission from the U.S. and Cuban governments to do this.

"The Cubans don't like the implication of somebody walking out on one of their beaches and swimming away," Nyad said.

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Florida teen loses hand in alligator attack


A Florida teenager was attacked by an alligator and had his left hand torn off when swimming in a popular neighborhood canal.

Tim Delano, 18, of Golden Gates Estates, Fla., was attacked by the 10-foot alligator while he was swimming at dusk Sunday in a drainage canal known to locals as "the Crystal."

"I saw my bone, I had no hand," Delano told the Naples News.

The animal attacked Delano, pulling him underwater and going into a "death roll," during which gators roll over and over until their prey drowns.

"Fortunately, I had enough sense to take my right hand and I started punching it," Delano said. He got the alligator to release him, but when Delano got to the surface he realized that his left hand was gone.

Delano started screaming, saying that the pain was "excruciating."

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Jeremy Wade returns for a second season of 'River Monsters,' beginning Sunday on Animal Planet

Jeremy Wade with a Congo tiger fish. There are monsters that live amongst us.

I hesitate to go into the ocean because of the dangerous denizens of the deep that reside there. Now I may start thinking twice about going into lakes as well, thanks to the preview episode from the second season of "River Monsters" that I recently watched.

Extreme angler and biologist Jeremy Wade is back, tracking down and fishing for some of the most threatening-looking freshwater fish found worldwide. The new season will begin Sunday, April 25, at 10 p.m. on Animal Planet.

"'River Monsters' is breaking new ground," Wade said in a press release. "Even in the 21st century, there are genuine mysteries to be solved and discoveries to be made in rivers and ultimately shown to the outside world."

Traveling to exotic locations including the Congo, Uganda, Ethiopia and South Africa, as well as spots in the U.S. such as Florida and Alaska, Wade attempts to land some of the most mysterious freshwater fish, including the Congo tiger fish, with teeth as long as the animal it's named after; the Zambezi river shark, a species that lives 100 miles from the sea; and the snakehead, a Far Eastern predator that’s now invading America’s backyards.

"Freshwater is probably the last frontier of wildlife filmmaking," added Wade. "Although lakes and rivers comprise less than 1% of the Earth’s water, we probably know less about what lives in fresh water than in oceans."

Episode 1 sees Wade heading to Thailand in search of the giant freshwater stingray, which can grow to more than 1,000 pounds and is equipped with a venomous barb on the end of its whip-like tail (Wade reminds viewers that Steve Irwin was killed by a stingray).

Though it did have some graphic wound sequences that were a bit shocking, I found the show utterly fascinating as well as educational, and it left me wanting to see the additional six episodes of the season.

I guess you could say I'm hooked.

-- Kelly Burgess

Photo: Jeremy Wade with a Congo tiger fish. Credit: Animal Planet

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High-surf and small-craft advisories issued for Southern and Central California coastline

Waves crash over the breakwater at Ventura Harbor in this 2002 photo. The boat left the harbor but quickly returned from the rough seas. Advisories have been issued for today through early Friday.

The NOAA National Weather Service has issued high-surf and small-craft advisories for Southern and Central California coastal waters.

"This is the kind of event where someone fishing from the rocks or jetties can get washed out to sea and is very dangerous. They are usually accompanied by strong rip tides so if you do go in, you are in trouble," 976-Tuna founder Philip Friedman told Outposts.

Here are excerpts from each advisory:

High surf advisory:

High surf is expected to develop on the Central Coast today and on west facing beaches of Los Angeles, Ventura and Southern Santa Barbara counties tonight. During the peak of this surf event Wednesday through Thursday morning surf is expected to average 15 to 20 feet on beaches north of Point Conception. ... On west facing beaches of Los Angeles and Ventura counties, surf is expected to reach 8 to 12 feet. ...

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Man in intensive care after diving face-first into jellyfish

A tiny but fully grown deadly Irukandji jellyfish lies next to match sticks for size comparison.

An Australian man has ended up in intensive care after diving face-first into jellyfish.

The unidentified 29-year-old was on a yacht near South Mole Island, off the coast of Queensland. He dove into the water, where he was immediately stung in the face by potentially lethal Irukandji jellyfish.

He was taken back to the island and given first aid until a rescue helicopter arrived to transport him to a nearby hospital.

RACQ Central Queensland Helicopter Rescue Service spokeswoman Leonie Hansen told the Brisbane Times that the man was shivering and had gone into shock when paramedics landed.

"It was the luck of the draw, really. He had a full stinger suit on, so only his face, his hands and his feet were exposed. Unfortunately, when you dive in, there is always that risk you will be stung."

A stinger suit is a lightweight version of a wetsuit that covers everything but the face, feet and hands and helps protect against venomous jellyfish that are common in northern Australia's waters from November through May.

Irukandji are so minuscule they can pass through nets meant to keep jellyfish away from popular swimming areas. Their stings cause severe abdominal, limb and joint pain, nausea, vomiting, sweating and agitation.

"Unlike the box jellyfish, normally with Irukandjis, they are only fatal if the person has a preexisting medical condition, like a bad heart," added Hansen.

-- Kelly Burgess

Photo: A tiny but fully grown deadly Irukandji jellyfish lies next to matchsticks for size comparison. Credit: Brian Cassey / Associated Press

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San Diego swimmer crosses chilling Sitka Sound without wetsuit


As feats of endurance go, Claudia Rose's recent swim across Alaska's Sitka Sound is pretty remarkable. 

The distance from Kruzof Island to Sitka is only eight miles, but there were strong currents and swarms of stinging jellyfish. The water temperature was only 54 degrees -- and Rose did not wear a wetsuit.

The 45-year-old from San Diego required 4 hours, 36 minutes to complete the feat and is believed to be the first person to swim across the sound, wetsuit or no wetsuit.

"I'm much more interested in things people haven't done," Rose says in story posted on the website of the Anchorage Daily News.

A former triathlete, Rose took up swimming because of medical issues that left her unable to run for long periods. Among her other accomplishments is a 21-mile crossing from Santa Catalina Island to Los Angeles in 2006.

Said Sitka's John Dunlap, who helped Rose plot her Sitka Sound route: "It's an amazing thing to hear or read about. Having actually seen it, I marvel at what a test of endurance it was."

-- Pete Thomas

Photo: Claudia Rose enters the water off Inner Point on Alaska's Kruzoff Island before crossing  Sitka Sound. Credit: Ralph Lufkin / Daily Sitka Sentinal via The Associated Press

Cape Cod great white shark episode thankfully is minus 'Jaws' hysteria

A great white shark patrols waters off Cape Cod in 2004.

News item: Beaches around Chatham, Mass., remain closed because of shark sightings made in the Cape Cod area before the busy holiday weekend. Reports of the sightings and closures -- as well as the tagging by scientists of two great white sharks -- make national news.

Reaction: I might be naive in saying this, but the fact that very few of the reports tried to turn this into a real-life "Jaws" scare seems to indicate how far society has come in terms of appreciation toward the marine realm's most notorious and misunderstood predator.

Dangling like bait were the sharks themselves, the last busy summer holiday along the shore and small-town  politicians wrestling with how to deal with the situation. Among the most notable missing elements: a giant mechanical shark bent on killing humans, blood and holy terror and a savage shark hunter named Quint.

At least one media outlet took the bait. Contact Music, quick to grab the Steven Spielberg connection, posted a story with this lead paragraph:

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About the Bloggers
Outposts' primary contributor is Kelly Burgess.