In 2017 An Australian Teen Was Bitten By Sea Fleas While Swimming Off The Coast Of Melbourne

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Sam Kanizay was having a pretty normal day. But after a brief dip in the water to try and soothe his aching legs, he came back to his clothes to find that his legs were covered in blood. And when doctors examined him they were shocked to discover what had happened to the 16 year old.

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Brighton is one of the most well-off suburbs of Melbourne and is known for its row of brightly colored beach huts. While it is home to some of Melbourne’s wealthiest residents, though, Sam Kanizay’s experience was more like something out of a horror movie.

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Kanizay had spent the day playing Aussie rules football in the area with his team. After the exertion, his legs were a little sore. He decided the best course of action for his tired legs would be to take a dip in the ocean at the nearby Dendy Street beach. What happened next, though, offers a horrifying glimpse of a terror that you would never expect.

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Kanizay only spent 30 minutes in the water. Three days after the incident, however, and despite intensive hospital treatment, he was still unable to walk.

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After stepping out of the water, Kanizay thought that there was still sand on his legs. Hence, he walked back into the ocean to try and wash it off. When he returned to put his shoes on, though, he discovered that his lower legs and feet were covered in blood. From there things kept getting worse.

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Image: The Guardian

First, Kanizay and his parents tried to wipe the blood off his legs. But when they did, his skin just kept on bleeding. Something had eaten deep into his flesh. The only option left to the family was to head to the local hospital. And the teen’s problems didn’t end there.

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To begin with, the staff at the hospital had no idea what had caused the wounds. According to Kanizay’s father, Jarrod, blood was actually pooling on the floor underneath his son at the hospital. What Jarrod did next, though, began to shed some light on the whole affair.

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The night after Sam had been taken to the hospital, Jarrod headed back to the beach with a net and some chunks of meat. And his mission was a success. He managed to snag a number of the creatures that experts now believe were responsible for his son’s injuries. And they’re definitely not the sort of thing that you’d want to come across.

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Jarrod took the specimens that he had collected to Dr. Genefor Walker-Smith, a marine biologist at the Victoria Museum. Examining them, Dr. Walker-Smith realized that they were a scavenging crustacean known as lysianassidae amphipods. They have another, more unpleasant name, though.

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The tiny creatures are sometimes called sea fleas. They scavenge on dead creatures at the bottom of the ocean. But it’s rare that they latch onto humans in the way that they did with Kanizay. It’s likely that the teen was simply a victim of being in the very worst place at the very worst time.

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To receive the injuries that he did, it seems that Kanizay must have disturbed a large group of the scavengers. If he stood on a dead fish, for example, then a feeding group of the creatures might have switched its attention to fresher meat. Some of the attributes of the fleas may have also worked to worsen Kanizay’s wounds.

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Indeed, it’s possible that the sea fleas deliver some kind of anti-coagulant – preventing blood from clotting – similar to that produced by leeches. According to Dr. Walker-Smith, this could explain why the wounds on Kanizay’s legs were taking so long to heal and why they were bleeding so much.

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Interestingly, though, Kanizay’s experience isn’t the only time that people have suffered injuries from sea fleas in Brighton. While the other cases weren’t as serious, they were undoubtedly traumatic for the people involved. And it’s pretty easy to see why.

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During a nighttime dive, another swimmer suffered a similar attack. Jeff Weir, the Dolphin Research Institute’s executive director, didn’t realize that he’d been bitten at first, simply because the water was so cold. When he came back to land, though, he was bleeding from the forehead and from his cheeks.

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Weir agreed that the creatures that had bitten him were likely to be the same ones that had attacked Kanizay’s legs. Nevertheless, he was a little mystified as to how the sea fleas had managed to do so much damage to the young man.

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“Most people won’t feel it because they move around quickly in the water… the lad must have been standing very still for quite a while,” Weir told the Daily Mail. And since Kanizay had gone into the water to try and soothe some aching muscles, it’s likely that this is just what happened.

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None of these previous cases, however, had managed to capture the headlines quite like Kanizay’s. Alistair Poore, an expert in marine invertebrates from the University of New South Wales said that he’d never seen anything like it. Indeed, if the injury had been caused by sea fleas, it was “a pretty dramatic example,” he told The Guardian.

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It’s not surprising that Kanizay’s case received such widespread attention, though. The combination of such shocking injuries, mysteriously inflicted in an idyllic location made for the perfect story. Kanizay’s family were even contacted by relations in Slovenia who had heard about Sam’s plight on the news.

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In the end, though, the Kanizays aren’t going to let Sam’s injuries stop them from enjoying the beach. Speaking to Perth Now, Jarrod Kanizay said, “We all need to go into the water and celebrate the bay and use it. Sam will be back in the water within no time, he can’t wait.” Several days after the ordeal, Sam was finally released from hospital.

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While Sam might not be able to wait to get back into the ocean, it’s fair to say that the pictures of his chewed up legs are likely to give most of us pause for thought next time that we’re on the beach. And if they’re not enough, maybe these words from Jarrod Kanizay’s interview with Perth Now will do the job. “It’s not a burrowing animal, it’s not a toxic animal,” he said. “And it just loves eating our flesh.”

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