Young girl tells of close encounter with puffer fish
A FAR NORTH young girl has put on a brave face to overcome her fear of water and marine animals after being bitten by a puffer fish.
Last Saturday, the Taumafai family on Thursday Island travelled to a local swimming spot after being affected by a local power outage.
Mother Tamara Taumafai said it was hot and humid that day so she and her five children decided to go swimming to cool down.
"They were in the water having a good time," Ms Taumafai said.
Ms Taumafai's four-year-old daughter Amaraia was playing with three of her brothers, when her mother noticed something amiss in the water.
"Three really large fishes approached the group, and started attacking (Amaraia)," Ms Taumafai said.
"The fish just started circling her … my 17-year old son Jacquin pulled her out from the water," she said.
"You can see the damage done to Amaraia's arm - she was suffering in pain."
The young girl sustained a bite that was 10cm by 8cm and "very deep".
"We wrapped her up in what we could and we took her to our local hospital," Ms Taumafai said.
There are several varieties of puffer fish that call the waters of the Far North home.
This includes the scribbed puffer, starry puffer fish, the ferocious puffer, and the milkspot toadfish.
Their name is derived from their defence mechanism, where they fill their stomachs with water when threatened upon.
This gives the fish a spherical ball look, and combined with spikes on their body, puffer fish appear to be inedible and unattractive by its natural predators.
Some puffer fish also carry toxins and can be dangerous to humans if consumed through food.
Fortunately for Amaraia, the puffer fish bite missed her arteries.
"The doctors were amazing," Ms Taumafai said.
"She was given some heavy sedatives so the doctors stitched up what they could."
However, Amaraia required more treatment at Cairns Hospital and she was transferred there the following day.
"She's recovering well - the surgeons did an amazing job," she said.
"She's in good spirits."
However, the experience has left Amaraia scared of the water and of marine animals.
To help her face those fears, Ms Taumafai decided to contact the Cairns Aquarium to see if they could help Amaraia.
"They gave her a complimentary ticket," Ms Taumafai said.
Amaraia handled the experience "very well".
"We actually spent some of time in front of the tank with puffer fish so she could get used to it again," Ms Taumafai said.
"Amaraia was initially hesitant to approach the tank but she's did amazingly well."
Amaraia's family back on Thursday Island are eager to be reunited with their sister.
"The siblings have a strong bond … they're waiting for her to come home," Ms Taumafai said.
DON'T MESS WITH A PUFFER FISH
QUEENSLAND Museum ichthyologist (fish scientist) Jeff Johnson said the most common type of puffer fish in the Far North was the ferocious puffer.
"They're nasty little fellas," Mr Johnson said.
"It's named especially for its appearance and behaviour."
Ferocious puffers have a poisonous flesh and generally attack toes, heels and the lower leg in shallow waters.
Mr Johnson advised people to dig their toes in the sand or get out of the water.