Southern Californians who want to enjoy their time at Mission Bay are facing a tough time dealing with tiny, underwater sea creatures biting at their feet.
The creatures have been identified as a crustacean species called Excirolana chiltoni, which are also known as “mini sharks.” These crustaceans are scavengers and grow to be around 0.3 inches long. Though small, their bite can cause some pain.
Tara Sauvage, from San Diego, was walking along De Anza Cove in Mission Bay when she decided to put her feet into the water, but then experienced an unpleasant surprise. In a matter of seconds, she started feeling bites at her feet and ankles
“It was painful! I was like uh! I jumped out of the water and this was so shocking. I had blood all over my foot and in between my toes,” Sauvage told CBS 8.
“I pulled my foot out. I had blood all over my foot. It was like small piranhas have bit me.” She soon rinsed her feet and felt okay after around 10 to 15 minutes.
These creatures can form swarms of more than a thousand and usually live in the shallow waters of the Pacific Ocean. They tend to migrate seasonally up and down the coast. Though their bite can be painful, it tends to be shallow and harmless. The bites are not known to carry diseases.
Experts recommend that people should shift around in water if they’re troubled by the crustacean swarm. If bitten, individuals should ideally get out of the water.
Past Cases, Importance to Ecosystem
Back in 1993, California had seen a high number of these “mini sharks” at Newport Beach. There was a sharp increase in the number of people reporting being bitten, including a two-year-old girl who had these bugs climb into her diaper.
In 2017, a teenager from Melbourne suffered an attack from what is believed to be a swarm of isopods called Cirolana harfordi, a close relative of Excirolana chiltoni. The teen’s father described his son’s blood-soaked leg as something akin to a “war injury,” according to BBC.
The teenager had initially mistaken bites to be sand rubbing on his ankles. It was only later on that he realized that the isopods had been nibbling at his skin.
Despite being a nuisance to beachgoers, Excirolana chiltoni are a key part of the natural ecosystem. They tend to eat the meat of dead fish, which keeps the waters from stinking.
The mini-sharks pose a problem in forensic investigations because they can make identifying drowning victims very difficult.