Surgeonfish Cuts

Facts You Should Know About Surgeonfish Cuts

  • Surgeonfish (also known as the doctorfish, or tang) is a tropical reef fish that has bladelike spines "knives" on their sides near the tail, which can inflict deep lacerations (cuts). These blades are retractable.
  • There are approximately 75 species of surgeonfish, and are in tropical and subtropical waters of the Indo-Pacific Ocean, Atlantic, Caribbean, and the Red Sea.
  • Surgeonfish tend to ignore divers and move away when approached. Their spines may cause deep penetrating wounds.
  • Surgeonfish do not have venom or toxin associated with them.

What Are Symptoms and Signs of Surgeonfish Cuts?

The laceration from a surgeonfish is immediately painful and usually deep. It will actively bleed. It is rare to have symptoms beyond the laceration but when it does happen there can be nausea, muscle aches, and anxiety.

What Are Treatments for Surgeonfish Cuts?

  • Apply direct pressure to stop any bleeding.
  • Clean the cut with soap and water thoroughly.
  • Soak the cut in hot, non-scalding water (to about 110 F or 43.3 C) for 30 to 90 minutes or until the pain is relieved.
  • Scrub the cut really well to remove any foreign material (dirt, shells, etc) out of the cut.
  • Stitches are rarely going to be placed because it would increase the risk of infection. However, if the cut is very large or is in a cosmetic area (for example the face), then the health care professional may consider placing stitches after explaining the options to the patient.
  • Antibiotics may be prescribed to prevent secondary infection due to the nature of the cut and the depth. This is controversial and based on the size, depth, and location of the laceration or injury sustained.

When to Seek Medical Care for a Surgeonfish Cut

A person with a surgeonfish cut may require medical attention to control bleeding, or in rare cases, may need stitches if the laceration is long or very wide.

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Medically reviewed by Avrom Simon, MD; Board Certified Preventative Medicine with Subspecialty in Occupational Medicine


Auerbach, P. Wilderness Medicine, Chapter 81. 6th Ed. United States: Mosby, 2011.

Encyclopedia Britannica. "Surgeonfish."