On the island of Antigua, southeast of St. Kitts, in the Caribbean, there is a place called Stingray City where southern stingrays have been hand fed and become tame enough to be cradled in the arms of humans.
We cruised in to St. John's, the capital city, and rented a van and drove to Stingray City about 30 to 40 minutes east on the island. In a brief orientation, we learned that the stingray's tail cannot be used as a weapon, it is only a danger if it is stepped on. Therefore, we were cautioned to always approach the stingray from the front and to shuffle our feet when we walked so as to avoid inadvertently stepping on a stingray hidden in the sand on the ocean bottom.
After our orientation, we got on a large catamaran and motored out about ten minutes to a shallow area in a reef that was roped off. There we removed our shoes and were given a snorkel and mask. As we arrived, we could see the stingrays coasting in, the motor of the boat providing a Pavlovian feeding response. There are 40 to 50 stingrays that participate in this feeding.
|The shallow sandy areas inside the reef provided an area where we could stand in waist-deep water.|
The southern stingray is found in tropical waters of the western Atlantic from New Jersey to southern Brazil. It is diamond shaped and olive brown to green on the dorsal surface (gray for juveniles) and has a white underbelly.
|This is a stingray we saw two days later in Barbados while we were feeding sea turtles. It illustrates the diamond shape.|
|This shows one eye on a stingray (top middle) and a large spiracle (below it to the left). It also shows the olive brown color.|
|Another view of an eye and spiracle.|
|One more view of eyes and spiracles.|
It has a barb on a long tail that is covered in venomous mucous which it uses to defend itself. Its wing-like fins propel it along the ocean bottom. It has eyes on top of its head and nearby openings called spiracles that allow it to take in water and pass it through its gill openings, bypassing the mouth , which is on its underside,when it is laying on the ocean bottom. Females grow to more than twice the size of males. Stingrays flap their fins to disturb the ocean floor and expose hidden prey.
|Here a stingray uses its fins to propel itself between two people.|
|I loved watching them. They are like large, under-water bats.|
|Two stingrays glide past, their long tails trailing behind them.|
We were instructed how to cradle our arms and warned not to lift-up and push the stingray out of the water or it will have a response similar to humans when their heads are forcibly submerged into water. We were all given an opportunity to cradle a stingray, some of us several times. I instinctively pushed up and the stingray started flapping its fins to get away.
|Judy cradles a stingray.|
|I then had a turn.|
|I spent quite a bit of time near one of the guides watching her cradle the stingrays. They were amazingly docile around her.|
|Underwater shots show how she cradles the stingray.|
|Cradling a stingray.|
|Here she cradles a young, gray stingray.|
Then we were given an opportunity to feed them. We were given a whole squid, tentacles up, and held in our hand with our thumb tucked down to avoid having it bitten.
|Here I hold a large squid.|
The stingray has a very strong sucking ability and it can hurt if your hand makes it inside the mouth. I did about ten feedings and it was very fun to feel that heavy suction on the hand before the squid disappeared into the mouth.
|Here I feed a stingray.|
|A view of the underwater feeding commotion.|
|This massive stingray nearly dwarfs the person feeding it here.|
This was another highlight of our trip. Just a few more pictures from this memorable experience.
|Stingrays gliding between legs.|
|Judy (left) floats above a traveling stingray.|