How it all came to be:
Stingray City is located in the shallow waters of the northwest corner
of Grand Cayman's North Sound. It's just inside a natural channel which
passes through the barrier reef. That's important to know, as it explains
not only where Stingray City is, but also why it is.
Stingrays are bottom dwellers who
feed primarily on mollusks and crustaceans, for which they dig in the sand,
and on the occasional small fish. Stingrays naturally like shallow, sandy bottoms
such as that found at this channel because that's where they find their food.
Fisherman used to duck in here, behind the the reef, to find calm water before
returning to the dock. Rather than spill their beer and have sharp knives and fish
guts flung about the boat while on open water, they naturally waited to return to
the sound to clean and fillet their catch. Disposing of the offal was easy, toss it
overboard in the shallow water, there's no one out here and the fish will eat it!
It was fat city for the rays!
Well, years went by, and eventually some local divers realized that, not only were
there were a lot of rays out there but you could get in the water with them and feed
them by hand (Divers will try most anything, given enough time
Then in 1987, Skin Diver Magazine found out about it, sent Geri Murphy down
to do a story on the whole thing and the rest was, as you say it, history!
Now, over ten years later, Stingray City and a second site near Rum Point Channel,
have hit the big time. Known throughout the world, featured on prestigious
television documentaries, and seen as underwater advertising backdrops for everything
from automobiles to 9v batteries, Stingray City and Sandbar are no longer quite
But for every diver or snorkeler who dares get in that water for their first time this
year, with these prehistoric looking creatures lurking just below their toes, the
adrenaline still flows and the heart still pumps. It is still a world-class experience.
This is not a penned up, artificial, man-made aquarium setting
with captive rays like they setup in the Bahamas in 1995.
This is the real thing, this is the real ocean with real animals
who are free to come and go as they choose, and they choose to be there because they
hope that you might just come down there and feed them. Makes sense, when
you think of it, who really wants to have to grub in the sand for a living?
How to survive it all:
There really isn't that much to actually have to survive out there
(other than that bright sun directly overhead, burning into every exposed part of your
body). Thousands and thousands of folks have visited these two sites in the past ten
years without being ripped to shreds by killer, man-eating rays. You'll probably
survive it as well.
If you are going to get in the water, here's a couple of hints for a more pleasurable
If you dive or deep snorkel, wear a "skin" or light wet-suit to protect from
stingray "hickies." Stingrays cannot see what they are feeding upon and they eat by
sucking the food into their mouths between two hard dental plates. Sometimes they can
get confused by all the feeding going on, and since they don't feed by sight, they just
start sucking as they approach the food source (divers). It's not bad intent or rude
manners on their part, after all they're there to feed - you're the one who's on this
higher "inter-species contact" level - they're just after a free lunch!
Feeding them has been compared to feeding a horse, while underwater - watch your
fingers. Your guide will probably have cut-up bits of squid or ballyhoo fish to
feed to the rays and will give you a piece or two at a time to feed them.
(Helpful hint to advanced divers: put a piece or two in your buddy's BC pocket for
that old mysterious animal magnetism underwater.)
Remember, this isn't Fido - you can't just toss the fish
up in the "air" and expect the ray to jump and catch it. Also remember, the ray
hunts by sense of smell so you can lead a ray around for quite a while with just
one piece of bait - actually just long enough to get bushwhacked by another ray
coming in from another angle. When you finally decide to feed a ray your piece of bait,
hold it in the palm of your hand with your fingers pointed away from your hand
so that your palm is very flat or bent back.
The ray will come in and just vacuum that bit of fish right up.
Many folks just let go of the bait the first time or two - the ray misses the fish
and it gets taken by one of the ever-present Cayman Piranha (Sergeant Majors and
Yellow Tail Snappers). These fish are actually the real threat here, they can come
and give you a rather sharp bite on the finger to help encourage you to give
them the bait.
If you don't want to feed the rays, keep your hands to yourself. If you get nervous,
just fold your arms across your chest and cover each hand with your opposite arm.
You should understand that sometimes the rays are rambunctious and can actually bump
into divers in attempting to get fed. Remember that they live on the bottom and
hunt by smell, so you can either just back off from the group who's feeding them and
observe from a distance or go back up to the surface and watch from up there for a bit.
Be sure not to wear dive gloves while diving or snorkeling with the rays. The fabric
of the gloves can easily strip off the layers of protective mucus from the ray's skin
and expose it to potentially deadly infection. There is absolutely no reason or need
to wear gloves at Stingray City or Sandbar.
Keep in mind that these are wild animals and will not take kindly to folks trying to
ride them or pull their tails. They are capable of inflicting a rather serious injury
with the stinger on their tail if you attempt to ride or harass them physically.
On the other hand, while rather forward in their feeding habits, they are not aggressive
animals and will not try to ride you or pull your tail.
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