Swimmin’ with the Rays

It’s January and chilly. I’d like to remember a warmer time and a warmer place. A place where I was surrounded by stingrays and loving every second.

Stingray City, Grand Cayman Island.

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Some places are tourist attractions that even if you’re determined to avoid touristy things you have to do them. Stingray City is one of these places.

It sits at the mouth of a channel on the north side of Grand Cayman. Despite its distance from shore, you can easily stand (even me at 5’2″) thanks to the sandbars that run through the channel.

You’ll hear different stories on why stingrays congregate here. Was it fisherman cleaning their take years and years ago that attracted the rays? Was it good hunting at the nearby reefs that drew them in?

Who knows. Today, the rays know that boat engines mean they get to eat squid. Each new boat brings more squid so why not hang out on the sandbars if you’re a ray?

stingray2Depending on when you go, the waters can be crowded with tour boats. My recommendation is to check out the port schedule and try to avoid mornings when two or more cruise ships are in. Actually, avoid mornings altogether. The afternoons are less crowded. We used Dexter’s Fantasea Tours, and I’d use them again if we go back.

Our boat had 20 people on it, and only one other boat was out there for our afternoon trip. The stingrays at Stingray City are Southern Stingrays. Male stingrays are significantly smaller than the females. That’s a female I’m holding up top.

I was worried that the guides would be annoying or that I wouldn’t be able to experience the rays in a way I wanted. The guides made sure everyone had a chance to hold a stingray and to kiss one. But they left alone to enjoy the rays for a good 45 minutes or so. They handed out a bag of squid pieces and told us how to feed the rays: hold the squid a couple inches above your first and keep your thumb in. Everyone on the boat passed around the squid and took turns feeding.

It was great. Stingrays have their mouths on the underside of their bodies. They use suction to pull the squid from your hand. Full disclaimer: this didn’t happen on my outing, but I’ve heard of (and seen the scars from) rays latching on to arms and legs.

I had the best time standing in the water and watching the stingrays dart around everyone’s legs. Sometimes they’d brush me with their wings. Other times a wave would make me lose my footing and I’d have to make sure I didn’t step on a ray. There were so many of them. I giggled a lot because I was loving every second of this.

It was easy to scoop one up in your arms to take a closer look or steal another kiss. Their tails do have a barbed spine at the end that is venomous, but it’s not always exposed. You only have to worry about it if you step on the spine. Don’t do that.

If you use the same outfit we used, I hope Simon is on your boat. Simon didn’t really do much to help the boat’s guests other than anchor the boat. He seemed to be there just to hang out with the stingrays.

But Simon deserves his own blog post. Stay tuned.

 

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