Spear fishing in the Arabian Gulf.

I found him idling in the warm shallows, where the reef parted to form a sandy bay on the sea floor. As my thumb toyed with the safety catch on my spear-gun, I was in two minds as to whether I should shoot him or not. Backtracking to stay out of sight, I found a coral head to stand on and, with my head out of the water, shouted back to Ahmed on the boat to get his attention. Did he want me to go ahead and attack this creature? But he was too far away to hear me, so I had to make up my own mind. I knew their wings were an Arabic delicacy and, as well, I’d never caught one before. However, should you fire and hit one of these animals and fail to disable him, he’ll either swim off with you in tow, performing a kind of submerged torpedo impression until you let go and lose your gun, or, and more likely, turn, attack and quite possibly kill you.

Fortunately, for once, I had diving fins on my feet and this swung the decision in favor of my more bloodthirsty inclinations. This is hunting after all. Keeping sound and turbulence to a minimum, I drifted over the reef toward the bay. Coming at him from behind gave me my best chance for a clear shot at his head and, with two beats of my feet I was in position, took aim and hit square between the eyes. He instantly disappeared into a cloud of sand kicked up by his furious thrashing and it was my immediate fear, knowing I hadn’t hit the brain, that this deadly and angry creature was going to come straight for me to exact vengeance. Automatically, I turned on to my back and furiously pumped the diving fins to keep my prey at as far a distance as the line would allow.

Finally reaching the boat I passed the gun handle over to Ahmed and swam around to the engines to climb out of the water. I had meant to warn Ahmed, but I’d only belatedly realised that, with the handover of my weapon, I’d be back in danger’s vicinity and I needed to get out of there quickly. I had intended to talk it over with him, tell him what was on the line and figure out what we were going to do. What I hadn’t anticipated was that Ahmed, excited by my bizarre and frenetic behavior, was eager to see what it was that I’d caught. Before I’d climbed out of the water, he’d already pulled a 6 foot long stingray into the boat, narrowly avoiding being lashed by it’s tail, not once, twice but three times as he danced, jumped and leapt out of the way of a viciously whipping tail.

Bounding down the boat from rail to rail he finally got to the engines, where I was only just getting on board and yelled manically at me in Arabic mixed with some broken English. The gist of his message was fairly clear. I’d nearly killed him. His face was as ashen as an Arab could get and he was shaking uncontrollably, muttering all manner of things, indecipherable to me as I was only 13 and my Arabic was rudimentary to say the least.

We sat and watched this beast of a sting ray leap four feet off the deck with it’s wings and spin itself in an arc wildly slashing at anything and everything with it’s tail. I can still hear and feel the thuds, slaps and whacks that that tail made traveling at light speed into all manner of objects stored in the bow. To add a little farce to proceedings, the anchor chain ran off the front prow of the boat. With Ahmed and I cordoned off at the back, we had to wait for the final death throes to pass before we could haul anchor and leave. Time then for Ahmed to tell me what I’d done.

The Arabian Gulf is a treasure trove of marine life, of which the stingray is the most abundant. While the majority are relatively harmless (I stepped on one as a child and he darted off in as much shock as I was), there are some which make up the deadliest stingrays in the world. And this was one of them. There are few creatures in the Arabian Gulf to give fishermen pause for thought of safety, but pulling up a net with one of these stingrays entangled is an event filled with terror.

The poison that coats the barbs in the tail is so toxic that depending on where and how badly you get lashed, as well as factoring in your general health, death through muscle paralysis (causing eventual asphyxiation) can take as little as thirty minutes. Which was why Ahmed, a seasoned fisherman, knew how close he’d come as he danced his way around three swings from death himself.

Even though he appeared to be dead, we dropped diving tanks onto his tail before clubbing his head to a pulp. Pulling up the anchor was my job and we were finally on our way back to Doha harbour and the sailing club from where we’d started out. Not a word was spoken on the way.

While Ahmed stormed into the clubhouse to tell all and sundry what a lunatic liability I was, I took the stingray to the boathouse workshop. After slicing off the wings, bagging them and putting them in the fridge for Ahmed to take to his family (he’d earned them), I cut off the tail and studied the barbs. I wanted to see how they worked, then cut them out, clean them and take them home.

In hindsight, the kitchen gloves I used to handle the tail were a ridiculous idea as welder’s gloves would have been more prudent, but I was too fascinated to care. When you bent the tail even slightly these two blades would become exposed, one layered on top of the other. The bottom barb measured three inches and the top two inches. With the tail fully extended the shorter stuck out at an angle of forty five degrees and the longer at around thirty five degrees. If the stingray was aiming at something it would get it.

But I still couldn’t see the makeup of the bones for all the toxic gunk coating them. I tried a high powered water jet that didn’t make a difference. Then I tried a wire scrubbing brush that they use on boats and was finally able to get somewhere. The poison had the consistency of glue and looked like a dark brown, almost black paint. Finally, I turned to cloth to attempt polishing, but the bones themselves were even stained brown in places. The trash bin was rapidly filling up with rags coated in death and Amir, the mechanic who was lord of this chaotic garage for boats, was getting pissed off.

My Dad came to find me after hearing Ahmed’s tale of woe, a little too late as I’d already finished playing with these two lethal knives. There was no way I was going to toss them away and they came home with me to take pride of place in my bedroom. That night I looked at them again and was amazed to see how closely they resembled feathers; exactly the same but for the fact that they’re hard bone. I tried to run my fingers across the tips of each barb, going against the grain and, to no great surprise, my skin kept getting caught on each tip no matter how gently I attempted to stroke it. What shocked me was when I tried to do the same thing in the opposite direction, going with the grain, and my finger tips still got caught on the tip of each barb, even though I was approaching from an oblique angle.

Even if you forgot the poison and it’s effects, the barbs themselves would tear two strips of flesh out of your body. Consider then adding in that glutinous toxin that would adhere to your raw tissue and enter directly into your blood stream. Small wonder that sting rays have succeeded and thrived with the help of evolution and this tidy anthrax-infused swiss army knife.

Mr. I

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Diving & Spearfishing in the Gulf

Billy the Boa



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  5. thank you all for your kind comments 🙂

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    • its ocean mist with custom header. 😉

  7. the picture of the ray leaping from the water was stunning. nice blog layout

  8. lol cant say ive been spearfishing in bali recently but this seems like a interesting trip i will have to make. nice blog layout. this was super easy to navigate through. have a nice day and thanks a bunch mate.

  9. Thanks a lot for this article! Really interesting.

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  12. fishing is very nice but sometimes it become very hard well let me tell u about the uae they had a lot of work they had to go under water to get the fishes they had only one thing to take with while going down it is a metal thing that is not covered well that is a very nice thing to know about uae. good job uae people!!!!!!!!

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