Australians have a new flesh-eating creature to fear in Melbourne's water

A sea flea. Source: Museums Victoria

Warning: graphic images below.

Sea fleas in Melbourne’s Port Phillip Bay are being likened to crustacean piranhas after a teenager emerged from the water with bloodied legs after being bitten by the scavengers.

Sam Kanizay, 16, spent 30 minutes in the bay cooling down after Saturday sport in upmarket Brighton. The area is popular with professional AFL teams for recovery sessions in the salt water.

Sam emerged with his lower legs and feet covered small puncture wounds and covered in blood. The wounds kept bleeding following attempts to wipe down his legs, and when the numbing effect of the cold water wore off and the pain increased, his father Jarrod took him to hospital where bewildered doctors tried to piece together what happened.

Sam’s feet after the swim. Photo: Jarrod Kanizay

Sam’s legs were bandaged and he was still in hospital on Monday night recovering. In an attempt to solve the mystery of what attacked him, his father returned to the bay on Sunday with small pieces of meat and scooped up a bucketful of sea creatures that began feasting on the flesh.

Yesterday afternoon Museums Victoria revealed the flesh-eating creatures are “sea fleas” (lysianassid amphipods), shrimp-like crustraceans up to 1cm long.

The good news for a nation already filled with deadly animals is that you can stop having nightmares about swimming in the bay turning into a scene from the 1970s Piranha horror films.

Marine biologist Genefor Walker-Smith examined a sample collected by Jarrod and said the creatures are naturally-occurring scavengers, which commonly bite, but do not usually cause these kind of injuries.

“It’s possible the amphipods contained an anti-coagulant, which would account for the inability to stop the flowing blood and that the very cold water may be the reason Sam didn’t feel the bites,” Dr Walker-Smith said.

“The amphipods have no venomous properties and will not cause lasting damage.”

Photo: Jarrod Kanizay

The crustaceans are a different species to sea lice.

Walker-Smith the bites are not unusual and normally people feel them and brush off the animals.

She believes that Sam might have disturbed a feeding group and while he was standing still in the water, assumed the pins and needles he was feeling was numbness in the cold water — but was probably the animals snacking on him.

Dr Walker-Smith described sea fleas as “the vacuum cleaners of the sea” which generally feed on dead and dying marine animals.

St Kilda players were warned not to enter the bay yesterday. Leading midfielder Koby Stevens to joke “I’ve still got my feet” after he got the message on his way to Brighton beach.

It’s believed that standing still in the water gave the sea fleas the chance to gather around Sam and take a bite, and an attack is unlikely on people who are moving around.

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