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January 2004 Vol. 19, No. 1   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Puffer (de)Fingers Intruder

from the January, 2004 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

In November, Randy Jordan, who runs Jupiter Dive Center in Florida, was leading a group through a local underwater cavern, when he spotted a large porcupine puffer fish in a hole. He figured he'd coax the little guy to show his divers.

First he stroked the fish's head with one Kevlar-gloved finger. The puffer stayed put. So he waggled his fingers in front of the puffer's face, doing his best imitation of food (porcupine puffers usually feed on shrimp and smaller fish). "My hope was to entice him to come out and play," Jordan says on his shop's website (www.jupiterdivecenter.com). "That is when he launched forward and got hold of my pinkie. Playtime over! Man that hurt. This cute little fish has teeth like a parrotfish and the ability to crush shells if necessary -- I was in pain, but relieved that my glove wasn't cut."

However, when Jordan took the glove off underwater, he realized that half his finger was still in the glove. "The stump that extended from my hand was clouding the water with green smoke. It was so thick I couldn't see my hand. I grabbed the base of my finger to attempt to stop the blood cloud and was shocked to see the damage inflicted."

At the emergency room, Jordan recalls, "the guffaws were endless." Most people aren't aware that the normally shy puffers even have teeth, but this one did enough bone damage that they couldn't reattach the severed fingertip. Randy underwent plastic surgery to close off the stump and was back in the water 10 days later, a humbler diver.

Though he has always cautioned his customers not to touch fish and has spoken out against the practice of shark feeding (which he feels creates a Pavlovian response toward humans and their boats), Jordan overlooked his own warnings in this case and paid quite a price. He told Undercurrent he now realizes that "touching fish is not good for them and may not be good for you. All fish will do what they need to do to defend themselves."

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