Needlefish – And you thought sharks are dangerous

A Needlefish is not the first thing on my monsters-of-the-ocean-list. Well, maybe it should be. This is a case report of a vicious needlefish attack on Fiji.

Is this really more dangerous than …
… this?

Since we could not afford another boat trip to Cloudbreak my wife and I went for a swim just in front of our hotel at Nadi Beach. I was swimming on my back. At first, I didn’t hear her screaming. Then, I saw her waving and realized that she was freaking out.
She was crying, holding her head, felt vertigo and had her crazy eyes on. Oh oh, not good. She said, a fish hit her. I thought she’d gone bonkers. Back on the beach, I couldn’t believe it. She had a puncture wound in her ear. The fish had jammed its needle-like nose straight through her ear. There was a big hole in the cartilage and it was bleeding pretty heavily. What the f..? Lately, we’ve been surfing over some sketchy reefs and when we play around in chest high absolutely flat water something happens?

Hitting her with his mouth open the fish left two puncture wounds. One through the concha media of the anti helix (left) and a small wound at the crus of the helix (right).

She said that she was hurting behind her ear, she had a tinnitus and her hearing was impaired on the right side. When I had a look at her mastoid (temporal bone at the side of the skull) I started to grasp how heavy the collision must have been. The mastoid was severely bruised and swollen. Any part of the head without thick bone protection would have been smashed by the impact.

This is what you can see at the outside of the mastoid. It actually led to a so called concussion of the labyrinth with vertigo, hearing loss and tinnitus. Luckily, the symptoms did not stay for long.

After some research I started to understand what had happened. Needlefish are pretty common eel-like fish. They can swim up to 60 km/h and usually hang out in hordes. Besides their sword-shaped thin bodies the only thing that’s striking about them is how stupid they look. Even though fish tend to have that in common the needlefish brings it to the next level. They virtually look like nobody is home. And that is how they are. Anything shiny will attract them. When these simple minded arrows speed through murky water with 60 km/h you do not want to be a shiny object. Well, my wife was wearing an earring. Could have been worse. Could have been a ring of the eyebrow.

It is amazing what kind of needlefish attacks have been reported.  The odd Kite-Surfer having a needlefish stuck in his leg (they jump pretty far out of the water) might seem entertaining. But it stops being funny when you read about people getting severely injured or even killed when stabbed by a needlefish in the face, through the eye into the brain or the heart. Or fisherman being attacked by  a whole school of needlefish after shining their lights into the ocean at night.

You should not be speeding with a nose like that!

The puncture wounds healed well and the other symptoms went away without therapy. But weeks after the incident you can still feel the hole in the cartilage.

What is there to learn? Maybe, don’t wear your nipple piercing in the water. At least, do get rid of that left nipple ring. Also: spend the money for the boat ride.
It’s just undignified to get your ear pierced by a darn fish while swimming when you could split your back open on some shallow reef while surfing.

2 thoughts on “Needlefish – And you thought sharks are dangerous

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