“Stingray City in the Cayman Islands
Stingray City is a series of sandbanks in the northern part of the bay of Grand Cayman, where everyone can freely stroke, feed and wander among the stingrays, the depth of water here is small – up to his chest.
Apparently, stingrays have been congregating in this part of the Caribbean for decades.
In the past, when returning from the open sea, fishermen would swim behind the reef to clean their catch in shallower waters where the current was calmer. The entrails of the fish were thrown overboard. Tailworms and other sea creatures over the years got used to the free food and stopped being afraid of the boats – the sound of the engines probably became associated with feeding, awakened their appetite.
Once people realized these sea creatures were safe, friendly, and hand-feedable, squid squadrons of tourists – both with guides and in private boats, carrying buckets of squid – poured in.
“You can shuffle them around like a deck of cards, but please, no high heels, roller skates or other shoes,” Captain Rob advised aboard the twin-hull vessel Emerald Eyes during a recent tour. “Only barefoot – for your own safety and that of the animals,” he insisted.
Once the passengers boarded the tour boat, the instructor began his apparently traditional safety monologue, which didn’t stop the entire trip – the entire 45 minutes the group made it to Stingray City. “I’m giving a short briefing so that you don’t accidentally come back on board with missing fingers or toes,” the captain joked.
During this trip the instructor, holding a small stuffed stingray in his hands, graphically demonstrated how to feed without hurting the animal. In particular, he advised to avoid patting the belly and explained how to identify a pregnant female in the pack.
He demonstrated how one could, by supporting this floating powerhouse by its wings, taste the skin, which resembles the texture of the surface of a Portobello mushroom, to the touch.
Upon arrival, the overly cautious tourists remained on board. Others, along with the captain and his crew, climbed down a ladder to a sandbank with crystal clear, turquoise-colored water. After a minute, stingrays, attracted by the scent of squid, began to gather near the boat.
Gliding gracefully through the water, the stingrays nestled against the instructors like affectionate puppies. They waved their meter-and-a-half tall wings as if trying to hug the suppliers of provisions. Captain Rob and his assistants had no trouble identifying their favorites, Snowflake, Penelope, Nitch, Susie, and Rusty. “Darth Vader has retired,” Rob sadly reported.
This time, the tourists were also lucky enough to see other sea creatures: unexpectedly, a two-meter tall alpha male dolphin made an uninvited visit to the stingray feast. It seemed that at the time the dolphins were mating – this mammal was very excited. Apparently, he was looking for a mate in the wrong place. This feisty fellow made a group of tourists worry: he tried to raise the anchor and kept hitting people.
“It’s not Flipper, don’t be fooled,” warned the captain. – Stay away from it, it’s a wild animal with sharp teeth – the dolphin may feel threatened by humans. Most heeded the advice, but one Chinese man, eager to get a close-up shot of the dolphin, came very close. The Celestial Dutchman was lucky, the dolphin did not attack him, and there have been known cases when cetaceans behaved very unpredictably.
“Stingray City” – a very popular place among tourists on Grand Cayman: in good weather there can be seen dozens of tourist boats full of tourists wishing to get acquainted with these amazing creatures.
In general, if you go a little deeper here you can meet a lot of sea creatures, nice and not so nice. So be careful not to accidentally strok moray or some toothy fish, they sometimes wander into the shallow water.
Although the islands are called the Cayman Islands, crocodiles are not found here. But tourists are invited to take part in a spectacular and rare show, which, perhaps, you will not find anywhere else in the world. The place where the action takes place is called “Stingray City”. It is located in the Caribbean Sea.
Miracles in a Sieve
What do we know about stingrays? Quite large sea fish, resembling a huge pancake with a long tail. Electric stingrays can deliver a fatal shock with a discharge of 60 to 230 volts. Australian television journalist and author of numerous wildlife films, Steve Irwin, also known as “The Crocodile Hunter,” was killed by a stingray tail while filming near the Great Barrier Reef. Most people consider them dangerous creatures. Approaching them can be fatal. But not all stingrays are dangerous!
We arrived at the pier where we were to go to Stingray City in a vintage British bus. As a British colony, the Cayman Islands are left-handed. The bus probably survived from the ’60s, but it was serviceable and sharp. The elongated engine hood resembled a crocodile’s face. There was no air conditioning in the cabin, but gusts of sea breeze blew in through the open windows, bringing juicy, lively smells, which air-conditioned air was completely devoid of.
When the boat turned away from the shore and headed out into the open sea, I was surprised, because I thought that the “City of stingrays” was a nursery where these fish are bred. – Maybe we got the wrong boat and ended up in the company of divers. – A thought crept in. – We’re going to Stingray City,” said the captain soothingly.
A narrow canal-like channel led from the cove into the sea. The right bank was blessed with verdure. On the right bank there was a heron, or an iguana on a branch hanging over the water, and they looked out on the shore. Beautiful mansions stretched along the left bank. In the yards were arranged cozy pavilions, large pools with blue water, children’s playgrounds with miniature water parks. Order and cleanliness reigned everywhere.
More than half an hour had passed. When the shore was almost out of sight the boat began to slow down. Ahead of them something strange was happening. Several boats and yachts were anchored in a circle on the high seas. In the center of the circle there were people standing up to their breasts in the water. There was shouting, shrieking and laughter. There was a veritable show of joy on the sea. And only when the boat came very close, it became clear that between the people under the water were many black “pancakes. They were stingrays. It turned out that their “city” was in the open sea!
The bottom formed a marvelous shoal of snow-white sand. There was nothing on the bottom, no shells, no pebbles, no algae. There was nothing but the softest sand. The water was crystal clear and had a rich aquamarine color. It seemed as if it was not water, but a molten gem. Thanks to perfect transparency, it was perfectly visible what was going on in the depths.
Fooled by an unprecedented sight, the passengers of our boat began to jump from the stern into the water, and immediately gathered around themselves more than a dozen stingrays. This was astonishing, as the wild fish behaved like pets. The reason was simple – tourists were feeding them, so stingrays were immediately gathered from all around the area as soon as the next human landing arrived.
What was happening was like some kind of fantasy game. The stingrays seemed to be having fun with people and they seemed to enjoy it. The newcomers in the water unwillingly burst into a cry when a meter and a half tall “pancake” came up and began to crawl on his chest, involuntarily hugging the shoulders with his fins. This was his way of begging for a treat.
Trying to find the mouth of the sea monster, people used to stick pieces of squid into the holes where water penetrates to breathe. It was not easy to guess that the mouth, unlike the eyes, is on the underside of the torso. That’s why the stingrays tried to climb up onto the chest of the “feeder”, setting their mouths!
Sometimes a huge “pancake” tried to squeeze between people, pushing them aside with their fins. He could kick them under the knees and topple them into the water. Their behavior was as friendly and cheerful as that of the dolphins. They clearly showed interest in what was going on.
To the touch, the stingrays were not slippery, but silky. The spine and long tail were stiff and slightly prickly. If you stretched your arms forward underwater, the small stingrays lay on them like cats. They could even be pulled out of the water. At the same time they did not resist, only snorted and stared with big kind eyes. At that moment they reminded me very much of calves. Good-natured creatures did not even mind kissing, and many tourists took advantage of it. It was hard to believe that these are wild animals without the slightest idea of training.
The encounter with stingrays made such a strong impression on me that I wondered if I should eat fish. At least with stingrays and dolphins, it smelled like cannibalism. Being with stingrays in their natural habitat allowed me to experience an unprecedented feeling of communion with nature. After my visit to Stingray City, these fish became “inedible” to me.