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Panic Attack and Pufferfish

Cave Diving (Sal Island - Cabo Verde)

Safety Stop. Scuba divers are about to going up.

I have been scuba diving for five years in many dive sites, and some of them even considered as difficult ones because of strong current or having numerous sharks and other huge marine life. I considered myself as an experienced scuba diver with hundreds of logged dives. I believe I have easy going attitude and – oh well, I’d better stop here as it looks now I am doing self-promotions..

Regardless of what mentioned as “myself promotions”; for the first time in my scuba diving experience and my entire living experience, I had a panic attack at an easy dive site in Sal Island (Cape Verde). It happened when I was about to descend; I was not even under the water yet. Out of the blue, I felt that I could not breathe and my heart beat so fast. I wanted to take off my diving wetsuit. I was unreasonable; I screamed that I could not breathe and felt that I was about to drown. I kept inflating my BCD (Buoyancy Control Device) jacket while it was already fully inflated. Thankfully Ben, our dive guide, was quickly helping me and brought me back to the boat. I can’t thank enough for his quick respond – Ben, whenever you read this,  thank you again!

Divers Alert Network mentioned panic attack could happen to an experienced scuba diver for no apparent reason, and that could be because the divers lose sight of familiar objects become disoriented and experience sensory deprivation. I did not feel of losing sight of any familiar objects. However, I did feel that I was not fully fit when preparing my dive on that day. I took the rest of the day off from scuba diving. On the following day, I went for cave diving in Buracona and things went well, I had no panic attack at all.

What my panic attack has to do with the pufferfish (blowfish) was pure coincidence. A couple days later, Dutchie and I went scuba diving at the dive site where I had panic attack. The dive site, Dive Site Santo Antão wreck, had a cargo ship that was wrecked in Santa Maria bay. The dive site was full of pufferfish, hundreds of pufferfish. They were everywhere around the wreck.

When frightened and stressed, the pufferfish will inflate himself by sucking water and air he can swallow to fill his stomach. This is his defensive mechanism but it also could get the fish killed when releasing the air after the inflation. While a pufferfish inflated himself when got frightened, I did keep inflate my BCD jacket when I had panic attack.

Pufferfish inflate

This tiny spiny puffer fish was caught in a neuston net tow. Many juvenile fish live in clumps of sargassum weed, a type of marine algae that lives its whole life floating at the oceans surface. South Atlantic Bight, Southeast United States. Photographer: Bruce Moravchik, NOAA. Credit: Islands in the Stream Expedition 2002.

It was no fun for having panic attack. I was lucky it happened before I was deep underwater, it’s not safe to inflate BCD jacket when underwater, as the scuba diver will go up faster without safety stop that could caused decompression sickness. After the experience I study how to handle the panic but I do hope it will never occur again.

As for scuba divers who care about marine life, would do their best not to frighten nor to stress pufferfish to get the fish inflated for the sake of picture. This scuba diver did so as portrayed in his flickr image for instance, and it’s embarrassing, if not then it’s a disappointing attitude of other fellow scuba diver. I just don’t get why it is so difficult not to touch or not to hassle marine life when scuba diving.  We are just the visitors in the ocean and the ocean is their home, just leave them alone and respect their lives at their home.

It’s OK now 🙂

Excellent articles on how to deal with panic when scuba diving:

Panic Underwater – avoiding

Why Divers Panic — And How to Deal With It


  1. Glad you were rescued from our panic attack. I’ve heard about it. Which confirms mountain climbing rule # 2. Always go with the best team. The team is what can save you.
    Mountain climbing rule # 1? (On a next comment)
    About touching… Some people just don’t understand. a) what you touch can harm/sting/bite/poison you b) “Don’t touch that” (Go to youtube)
    Tot ziens

  2. Greatly appreciate not just your photos of the (unfrightened) pufferfish, but your attitude of respect toward all marine life: “We are just the visitors in the ocean and the ocean is their home, just leave them alone and respect their lives at their home.” Just so.

  3. wow. i had no idea it could still happened to experienced diver. hope you are ok with it and find a way to control it for the sake of your future dives. ps: who knew tiny pufferfish could look so cute.

    • Thank you! It was one time issue – thankfully. I guess I was too tired back then after staying up so late the night before..The pufferfish is adorable even when they are not in panic mood 😊

  4. Enjoyed this very much. I am a diver as well, here in the Florida keys and Bimini. My most frightening experience was at Pennekamp in the keys. A huge Barracuda came a little to close for comfort . T Thank you for a wonderful article. 🙂

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