A Blue Ringed Octopus in the water
A Blue Ringed Octopus, similar to the one seen off Lady Musgrave Island. Photo: Elias Levy

by Max Eagles, produced for Online by Naveen Razik.

A lucky fisherman has been discharged from hospital after a close encounter with a deadly blue-ringed octopus near the Great Barrier Reef.

The 21-year-old was bitten on the finger while raising a crab pot onto a fishing boat off Lady Musgrave Island, around 115 kilometres east of Gladstone.

He was airlifted inland on Sunday evening by the RACQ Capricorn Helicopter Rescue Service, after being treated on an island beach.

It was the first time helicopter crew member Garth Snyder had dealt with a blue-ringed octopus bite in the field.

“Both the paramedic and the doctor hadn’t had a patient with a blue ring octopus sting either so, [it’s] pretty rare,” he says.

The RACQ airlift was far from simple, with crews initially prepared to winch the patient from his boat.

“We weren’t sure if we could land on the island due to the low tide,” Snyder explains.

Ultimately, the helicopter was able to land on the beachfront where the patient was treated before he was transported to Rockhampton Hospital.

Source: RACQ Capricorn Helicopter Rescue Service Facebook

Blue Ring Octopus docile but lethal

Variants of the Blue Ringed Octopus are commonly found in marine waters around Australia and South-east Asia, and the species has been attributed to at least two fatalities in the 1950s and 60s.

Senior Aquarist of Reef HQ Aquarium Hamish Tristram describes the octopus’s venom as the most deadly of its kind in the world.

“The Toxin is quite potent [and] it actually has a neurotoxic element,” he says.

“What happens is it shuts down the nervous system and invariably leads to respiratory failure if the victim isn’t given first aid.”

The Queensland Museum says Blue Ring Octopus bites are “relatively painless”, meaning they often go undetected by victims.

This means it’s important to recognise the early symptoms of an octopus bite quickly, especially as an anti-venom has not been discovered.

“The symptoms generally start with tingling mouths, numbness in the mouth, and what happens is you get a paralysis,” Tristram says.

He says signs of paralysis include “droopy eyelids, slurred speech, tingling mouth extremities [and a] dry mouth.”

“Then it’s critical that person is conveyed to hospital because what that’ll do is put that person on artificial respiration.”

Mr Tristram says once the venom wears off there are no long-term health effects, and whilst the Blue Ring Octopus has a lethal reputation, the nature of the creatures means bites are very rare.

“An octopus would never perceive a human as something they’d want to bite so they’re not going to pursue a human and actively hunt a human,” Mr Tristram explains.

People are advised to treat blue-ringed octopuses with caution, and if bitten should call 000 and seek first aid immediately.