By Dede Fulk
As the anchor plunged down in 3-feet of water, it’s like the captain rang the dinner bell. Off the Caribbean coast of Grand Cayman, fifteen to eighteen gray rays appeared out of nowhere, flapping their silky wings in the water welcoming boats to Stingray City.
When you think of stingrays, Steve Irwin’s downfall comes to mind. Not frisky, Southern Stingrays are eager for petting or a squid snack. When you tell people you are planning on swimming with stingrays, they may look at you like you’ve lost your mind.
This is a memory that you’ll always cherish and want to share. For the best experience, bring your childlike wonder, your smoochin’ lips, tuck your thumb when feeding and learn the Stingray Shuffle. That’s a lot to remember when frolicking with these majestic rays in the ocean. More domesticated than other rays in the Caribbean, but still wild animals.
How to experience stingrays
Crazy Crab Cayman offers personal tours with knowledgeable marine guides and a Captain with a limit of one pound of squid per boat. Therefore, if you crave time with 60-species of corals, Blue Tang, Needlefish, Bluehead Wrasse, Parrotfish, and Stingrays, stay with a private tour company.
The stingray population is growing. Yearly, research teams count the number of stingrays in Grand Cayman Stingray City and Rum Point, the closest town to the sandbar. When 127-rays came out to play in July, ultrasounds revealed that 51% of the females were pregnant with 2-5 pups. The Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation had a busy trip. They said it was the highest number of stingrays processed on any weekend.
Before taking the leap onto the sandbar, the guides demonstrate with a demo model what to avoid and how to handle the rays. The look-alike rubber model is about the size of a stingray pup. The first nugget of information is to avoid approaching from behind. Hidden in a sheath about a third of the way down the tail, is the protruding barb. Plus, being in front allows you to gaze into their eyes while you hold them. Your open arms invite the ray to bask in the sun and flap their muscular wings with you. On their terms, they float away to meet the next wide-eyed visitor.
The guides demonstrate how to feed them by tucking your thumb. The suction on these rays is like a hoover vacuum cleaner, and you don’t want them to confuse your finger with a piece of squid. Since their eyes are on the top of their bodies, they can’t see below them. Bottom dwellers like crabs, shrimp, and other crustaceans are their delicacy that requires some serious suction to snack on.
Stingray happy hour
You’ll find Stingray happy hour from early morning to just before dusk at the sandbar. People squealing with delight as they don their snorkel masks and bury their faces in the shallow water to see rays averaging a foot in size to over 2.5-feet swimming and settling on the ocean floor. Females are larger and a darker gray color than the males in this species. You might even meet Frisbee and Boomerang, two barbless stingrays that frequent the sandbar.
The Stingray Shuffle, as they call it, always keeps your feet on the ground. Stepping on one produces a knee jerk reaction with their tail that unsheathes the barb and delivers a painful sting. At first, you might be afraid of the tail brushing against you, but the guide held a female ray and kissed her barb. He demonstrated how it takes more than touching it to get stung.
One local folklore is to kiss a stingray for 7-years of good luck. Heck, who doesn’t want to have good luck? So, before you leave, pucker up and give a raspberry to the next stingray that glides your way wanting some TLC.
Make a stingray date
Before you arrive at Grand Cayman, reach out to Crazy Crab Cayman and get ready for your adventure. They have 3-boats now, but reservations give you priority.
It’s your day, your schedule, your boat, your pace. A true VIP-experience. Snorkel and swim with the wildlife of Grand Cayman and learn how to protect the environment with an experienced captain and guide.