Marine Animal Bite

  • Medical Author: Scott H Plantz, MD, FAAEM
  • Medical Editor: Ivette Motola, MD
  • Medical Editor: Francisco Talavera, PharmD, PhD
  • Medical Editor: James Kimo Takayesu, MD
Reviewed on 10/8/2021

Facts You Should Know About Marine Animal Bites

  • Fish and other marine animals can bite and cause cuts, scrapes, and punctures.
  • A person who is attacked or bitten should attempt to identify the type of fish or animal, the time of the injury, and the nature of the attack.
  • Bites or puncture wounds to the hand, wrist, foot, or joint are very dangerous and require immediate medical attention.
  • Ocean bacteria are particularly dangerous. Infections often occur. Local wound infection may develop in as few as 24 hours.

What Are Marine Animal Bite Symptoms and Signs?

Signs of infection include

  • warmth,
  • pus,
  • red streaks,
  • a foul odor,
  • lymph node swelling,
  • pain with joint movement, and
  • fever.

What Is the Treatment for a Marine Animal Bite?

  • All bite wounds require immediate thorough cleansing with plenty of fresh tap water. Gently scrub the wound with soap and water to remove foreign material. If a syringe is available, it should be used to provide high-pressure irrigation. Remove dead tissue with sterile scissors or scalpel.
  • After cleansing, apply a topical bacitracin ointment three times per day.
  • Wounded extremities should be immobilized and elevated.
  • Puncture wounds and bites are usually not sutured (stitched) unless they involve the face.
  • Oral antibiotics are usually recommended to prevent infection. If infection develops, continue antibiotics for at least 5 days after all signs of infection have cleared. Check for drug allergy prior to starting any antibiotic. A doctor can recommend the right antibiotic. Some antibiotics can cause increased sensitivity to the sun, so use a sunscreen (at least SPF 15).
  • Relieve pain with 1-2 tablets of acetaminophen (Tylenol) 325-500 mg pain relievers every 4 hours and/or 1-2 tablets of ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) 200 mg every 6-8 hours.

When to Seek Medical Care for Marine Animal Bites

  • All but the mildest bite wounds require prompt medical attention.
  • Consult a doctor about treatment with available medications.
Reviewed on 10/8/2021
Medically reviewed by Avrom Simon, MD; Board Certified Preventative Medicine with Subspecialty in Occupational Medicine


"Initial management of animal and human bites."