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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. Thank you for bringing up the point that we are visitors in the ocean and not to touch or disturb anything. I love your puffer pictures. i love their lips! They always seem to be smiling. Thanks for stopping by my site and liking my not too creepy post. I think it is easy for scuba divers to have panic attacks. It is not our normal habitat!

  2. I’m glad all went well. I don’t dive, but I can empathize after your description.
    The puffer fish is really cute. I agree that we should not hassle marine life, especially not for the sake of a picture – or video. I found this just yesterday:
    I’m unsettled by this video. I can’t comprehend the appeal of big-game fishing – but maybe that is a “man-thing”. By the way, it was no “good will” that the fishermen released the shark after reeling it in (“Commercial fishermen in the EU have been prohibited from landing porbeagle sharks. When accidentally caught, the species must be returned to the sea and, wherever possible, they should be released unharmed.” The same should certainly be true for recreational anglers.), and I can’t imagine how exhausted the pregnant shark must have felt after fighting for her life for an hour and a half. I really hope she recovered and got her pups safely – porbeagle sharks are critically endangered in European Seas, after all.

  3. it seems like with everybody posting videos and photos to the internet there is too much of a temptation to make things happen like your example of the pufferfish… people are inconsiderate of the animals and environment they are photographing just to make a “good” photo… whereas (hopefully) a professional photographer or oceanographer would wait for the pufferfish to do its own thing naturally. Once again, we humans are the enemy!

  4. The panic attack must have been frightening, but to relate it to a puffer fish was perfect! I have caught a puffer fish when fishing in Florida, and I’ve seen them swell up. I hope you don’t suffer from the attacks ever again.

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