Several marine and estuarine species of eeltail catfishes commonly inflict stings with their venomous dorsal and pectoral fin spines. Anglers removing them from baited hooks at night, commercial fishers sorting trawl catches, and unwary children handling marine life in shallow tide pools are most at risk.
The spines are sharp and serrated and after penetrating hands or feet they sometimes break off, leaving part of the spine in the wound. Depending on the severity of the penetration and amount of venom absorbed through the wound, the pain can be extreme and persist for hours.
Eeltail catfish should not be handled. Protective gloves or an implement should be used to remove them from fishing gear or trawl catches.
Striped Catfish, Plotosus lineatus
Plotosus lineatus (Thunberg, 1791)
Total length to 35 cm, common to 14 cm. First dorsal fin and pectoral fins each with a single strong, sharp, serrated spine. The dorsal, caudal and anal fins converge to form a pointed eel-like tail. Lips surrounded by eight barbels or ‘whiskers’. The skin is smooth and scaleless. The head and body is dark chocolate to grey-brown, with two narrow pale creamish white stripes along the sides. The stripes often fade in large specimens.
Offshore reefs to coastal bays and estuaries. Found across northern Australia from Esperance, WA to Sydney, NSW.
Juveniles often form dense, spherical shoals that may contain more than 1000 fish. The venomous fin spines can cause painful wounds.