Here is an image from an iconic dive site in Grand Cayman. This is yet another of many trips where I never got around to writing up a trip report. My bad.
I was fortunate enough to be invited to GC to dive with my friend Cindy (aka Gunard) a few years ago. She is a wonderful, generous dive buddy and great photographer (she’s unbelievably good at spotting teensy things). Being semi-local (she spends several months a year in GC – lucky ducky), she really knows the sites. Even though she has done the “Stingray City” dive numerous times, she was kind enough to make sure we went there together.
Stingrays got a bad rap after the unfortunate demise of Steve Irwin aka the Crocodile Hunter. He was unlucky enough to take a tail strike to the chest, and it killed him.
The stingray has a barbed, venomous tail to protect it from predators, and it would appear that Steve was swimming closely above the ray, approaching from behind. In its own defence, the ray popped up its tail, and hit him near his heart. Sad for sure, but methinks it was unwise to be tailing a stingray in this way. When photographing them, I always try to approach from the front or side – never from behind.
These animals are very adept at burying themselves in the sand, where they lay in wait for prey to swim by. When something tasty comes in range, bam, they pounce. That being said, I have never heard of any other diver being hit by one of these animals – if anything, the challenge is to approach stealthily enough that they don’t spook and scoot. Most injuries sustained from stingrays are by people walking on sandy bottoms, where the rays are parked, and stepping on them. By all reports, it hurts like hell to get a spike in the foot, but it is not life threatening. Steve was just very, very unlucky that he took the hit to his chest.
Stingray City in Grand Cayman is home to many stingrays – they are fed squid bits by visiting boats, and have become quite tame in the process – so much so that, as you can see in the image above, they are very comfortable taking food from the hands of the pros who enjoy wrangling them. And wrangling is a good description – the whole dive feels like a bit of a rodeo, with the rays swooping in like stealth bombers, very close to divers, hoping to be fed.
I am still not sure how wise it is for us humans to be chumming the critters in the ocean – it creates an unnatural link in the food chain. This is especially true with shark dives. I’ve been on a few boats where, at certain sites, they chum the sharks. It is not unusual to see the sharks converge on the boat as soon as it pulls up to the mooring, like Pavlovian dogs responding to a bell. It’s all great to get the photo ops, but personally, I prefer more natural interactions and behaviour.
One more parting shot from Stingray City, which gives a sense of the action: