If an average person happened upon the world's most poisonous snake and the world's most poisonous fish engaged in battle, stepping between them would probably be the last idea to come to mind. Leaving the area and trying to find a change of underpants would be more likely.
But for experienced diver and fisherman Rick Trippe of Darwin, Australia, breaking up such a deadly struggle of nature didn't even require a second thought.
The Australian realtor with a passion for being on the water found a sea snake and stonefish fighting each other during a Thursday trip in Darwin Harbor. He separated them with his own two hands and set them both free. The photos he posted of the encounter on his Facebook page quickly went viral, netting him emails from around the globe that probably contain phrases like "Are you insane?!?"
Trippe told CNET's Crave blog that he and a friend had just "up-anchored from an old World War II wreck and were feeling pretty chuffed" about the fish they caught when he first noticed the sea snake.
"We were going to our next wreck when we saw something in the middle of the harbor but couldn't make out what it says," Trippe said. "So with curiosity, we motored over to find a massive sea snake. It was close to 2 meters (6.5 feet) long and thick. As we approached the sea snake, we saw that it had a stonefish in its mouth."
Sea snakes and stonefish are classified as the most venomous members of their respective species. Sea snakes are actually docile -- they "don't want to touch humans" and don't always inject venom when they bite, Trippe says -- but he adds that their venom is "five times deadlier than a cobra's."
Stonefish, also known as scorpion fish, inject their venom through the row of spines along their back. The stonefish's venom can cause intense pain that may take up to two days to recover from and can be fatal if injected into a person's chest or abdomen.
Trippe's photos show the snake's mouth locked on the stonefish's back where its poisonous spines are located. Trippe says he knew the stonefish wouldn't have a chance of surviving once the snake injected it with its venom but he still felt moved to break up the battle.
"Being an animal lover, I grabbed the snake just behind the head with serious precaution knowing that sea snakes are highly venomous, and untangled the stonefish, also poisonous, from its mouth and body," Trippe told CNET. "I released the now-happy snake from its impediment, but moments later, the snake swam around making a beeline for the not-so-happy stonefish and a second attempt."
Trippe says he knew by that point that the snake won and would have a tasty meal as the spoils of its victory. So he says he let it swim away and continued his trip. He didn't learn just how poisonous the snake he held in his hand was until he got in front of a computer. "Lucky I handled it with such care and didn't get bitten or I may not be here to tell the story or share these fabulous pictures," Trippe said.
Trippe says he has plenty of experience handling snakes and stonefish, unlike most people who get shivers just thinking about them. So he felt confident enough handling what turned out to be the most poisonous snake and fish in the world.
"People think I'm crazy, but I used to have a chicken coop and I would shine a torch in there and pull pythons out of there all the time, so I'm used to handling snakes," Trippe said. "Also, a friend of mine has a marine aquarium and I learned how to handle a stonefish from him. You just place a cap over the fish and slide a knife underneath it, but you have to be extremely careful because getting hit with a spike is very, very painful."
Trippe also says he takes "any chance I can" to go diving and fishing and quips that he feels "more danger on the street than I do in the ocean."
I think we've got a new Crocodile Hunter on our hands, folks. Quick, someone call Animal Planet!