Swimming with Stingrays
Would You Like to Swim with Stingrays?
Have you been swimming with stingrays? You may have, and not known it! But, have you ever done it on purpose? It's a most amazing experience - one you will never forget.
Organized excursions are offered by most cruise ships sailing Bahamian and Caribbean itineraries, and that's where many people experienced these magnificent creatures. One of the most well-known places is Stingray City, in the Cayman Islands. But there are other places, including Antigua, Grand Turk, and Nassau. You may also see them while diving or open water snorkeling, or even wading in shallow water.
I'm hooked on Swimming with Stingrays, and will do it whenever I get the chance. (Snorkeling, too!) Would you like to know more about it? Let me tell you just a little bit about these fascinating creatures, and the places where you can meet them for yourself. Then, you can decide if this incredible experience is for you.
Photo: my own (all rights reserved)
Is is SAFE
to Swim with Stingrays?
Is it Safe?
It's actually pretty safe, yes. If you're not experienced at it, just don't go looking for them on your own. Go on an organized excursion, under the 'protection' of an experienced tour guide. They are well versed in the ways of the rays, and will instruct you on how to be on your best stingray behaviour.
What about the Barbs?
The poisonous barbs on their tails are used for self defense, not offense. They'll get you with them if they feel threatened - like if you step on one in shallow water.
Do the Stingray Shuffle!
If you are wading or walking alond in shallow water where there may be rays, forget about Mama's voice saying, "Pick up your feet when you walk."Not this time! Slide or shuffle your feet along to avoid surprising them. Stomping down on one would cause a stingray to go into defensive mode. The shuffle will alert the creatures, giving them the signal to flee, which they will.
Stingrays and YOU - Have You? Would You?
Have you, or would you do a swimming with stingrays experience?
In the Caribbean, You'll Find
Lots of Southern Stingrays
If you participate in a swim with the rays excursion while on a cruise to The Bahamas or the Caribbean, you'll probably be introduced to the Southern Stingray, the type you see most often where the excursions go. These fairly docile creatures will fascinate you with their incredible grace and their strange beauty.
One thing you may not know about rays (stingrays, eagle rays, manta rays) is that they can LEAP great distances out of the water. They usually do this in an effort to elude a predator. They have been known to land in fishing boats instead of back in the water. This must surprise the ray every bit as much as it does the occupants of the boat!
A TRUE STORY
Not too long ago, this happened just off the coast of southern Florida. The stingray, probably wondering what had happened to his world, went into defensive mode, and happened to 'stab' the man in the boat. Rather than trying to remove the barb, he kept hs wits about him and instructed the only other occupant of the boat in getting the boat back to shore. That other occupant was his 10 year old granddaughter! Back on shore, help was available. He was whisked to a hospital, and survived.
Stingray Pendant Turquoise and Swarovski Crystals
The next time I feel like splurging on myself (which rarely happens) THIS is what I want to buy me!
The aqua of the turquoise and the sparkle of the Swarvoski crystals remind me of the sparkling turquoise wagters of the Caribbean Sea, where I got to swim with the rays for the very first time.
It sure is pretty.
Where Can You Find Organized Tours?
Lots of places!
You may end up swimming with them unawares just about anywhere. They live round the world in temperate waters of the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans, as well as the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico. (Some species even live in certain fresh water lakes and rivers.)
Organized stingray tours can be found in many tourist destinations. I've been fortunate enough to swim with rays on at least eight occasions, in five different locations. Those locations are, in order of my own personal preference:
1 - Nassau, The Bahamas.
2 - CocoCay, Berry Islands, The Bahamas
3 - Antigua
4 - Stingray City, Grand Cayman
5 - Gibbs Cay, Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos Islands
My preferences may not be the same as yours, but I'll try to give you a little bit of information about each of these five places and how I feel about each one. One thing I can tell you right now is, I'm ready to go again!
Blackbeard's Cay - Nassau, The Bahamas
Many will disagree with me, but this is my first choice for a stingray swim. Why? Because you really get to SWIM with the stingrays, not just stand around in shallow water while the sting rays swim by you. Or stand around in a group while some guy holds one for you to look at while he talks about it.
Some other things about this swim site:
It's an enclosed area, but a very large one, with captive rays who actually 'live' there. You can wade in from the beach, but the depth graduates to a decent depth (perhaps about 12 or 15') as you go farther out. So, you can choose to swim or wade, at your pleasure.
These rays are de-barbed, so if you just can't get Steve Irwin off your mind, you can rest easy.
Swimmers are given 'markers' beyond which they are not to go. This provides any rays who are not 'in the mood' for human interaction a safe haven, and the rays really do get it. So, if you are in the swimming area, and the rays are around you, it's because they are ok with being around you.
Feeding time is fun! Those who want to participate kneel in shallow water in two facing lines. This forms a 'food tunnel' for the rays. They gather, and swim in a line through this pathway, sucking up the food held out for them by those in the lines of participants as they go. It's pretty cool - like living, zooming vacuum cleaners. As they zoom past, some of them brush your skin with their velvety soft 'wings.' Very sensory!
Berry islands, The Bahamas
CocoCay is Royal Caribbean's private island in The Bahamas. There is no organized sting ray excursion there. It's a snorkel on your own type of place.
The reason this location isn't number ONE on my list is that there is no guarantee of seeing stingrays there. I almost always snorkel there, but sometimes I don't see a ray.
The reason it isn't lower on the list is because of what I HAVE seen there - An Eagle Ray! Boy, are they beautiful! The only way I can think to describe their color is chocolate brown with vanilla polka dots.They're big - and fast, too. They really do seem to 'fly' through the water.
You may have seen this same picture on my lens called CocoCay: A Slice of Paradise. This is the only Eagle Ray I have been lucky enough to capture with an underwater camera. Isn't it beautiful?
Guess I need to do a little more snorkeling!
Photo: my own (all rights reserved)
Plush Jumbo Spotted Eagle Ray
This guy is huge!
Designed by a wildlife artist, this Spotted Eagle Ray has a 49" wingspan. He measures over five feet from nose to the tip of ohis tail.
And he's soft, too.
What a cool stuffed toy this is!
Out in the Caribbean Sea
I really enjoyed my Stingray Tour in Antigua, and would do that one again if the opportuinity arose. We embarked from a small dock outside a farmhouse, and motored to the site, which was an enclosed area in the Caribbean Sea a short way offshore of Antigua. The swim area was enclosed by a fence, with steps to enter the water from the small boats.
Once inside the enclosure, you could choose to stay with the guide in the area near the steps for an 'encounter' type session, or swim around on your own. I liked that I had a choice. You don't have to guess which I did.
Like most of these stingray tours, after the swim session was over, you could purchase pictures or videos that were taken during your encounter.
This is a photo of what our first glimpse of our swim destination looked like.
Photo: my own (all rights reserved)
They May Be Hiding in the Sand
Stingrays Like to Bury Themselves
Stingrays like to hide on the sea floor, under a thin layer of sand. They settle on the bottom, and begin 'flapping their wings' to stir up the sand, which then falls back down onto them. It's a pretty effective method of concealment. They even feed in this buried state.
Rays who are hiding in the sand this way can be almost impossible to spot, even in water that is clear and shallow. That's why it's so important to do the 'stingray shuffel' when walking in water where they tend to hang out. (Yes, even if it's just over ankle depth... that's deep enough for small rays!)
While I had come upon rays that were already buried, the first time I ever saw one actually bury itself was in Antigua, and I it was quite exciting to watch. The pictures here are 'before and after' shots that I took that day. Just look how effective they are at camouflaging themselves!
Have you ever watched a ray bury itself in the sand?
A Very Popular Spot
at Stingray City, Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands
One of the most popular stingray swim sites in the western hemisphere is at a shallow area of the Caribbean Sea known as "Stingray City" just a short boat ride off Grand Cayman Island. But is it the best?
It's probably a great place to start if you are not an experienced swimmer / snorkeler, or have any trepidation at all about how to behave around these creatures. The Cayman Island guides are well traned and very good with people who are new to this rewarding excperience. They'll help you and make sure your time is safe and enjoyable.
Personally, I use Native Way Tours. Tours with them have been enjoyable, the guides entertaining as well as knowledgeable, and their groups much smaller than some other independent tour companies.
It's called Stingray City because for years, enterprising tour companies have been taking excursion groups there - especially cruise ship excursion groups. So, the Grand Cayman stingrays are so accustomed to their human visitors that they swim towards the sandbar at the sound of approaching boat motors.
You see, they know that a free meal comes with their visitors. One of the things you'll get to do is hand FEED them. That means that what they'll get to do is EAT. (yum!) They're like marine vacuum cleaners, sucking the food out of your hand, as you hold it out for them as instructed to by the guides. No they do NOT bite, in case you were wondering.
Southern Stingrays on Ebay
Sometimes, you'll find some interesting Southern Stingray items on eBay.
Ebay can be full of surprises. When it comes to stingrays, you never know whether there will be art, jewelry, clothing, or a toy of some sort. Sometimes it's something else entirely - something totally unexpected.
Here's an item that's being auctioned there right now.
Someone Gets a Kiss (video) - In Grand Cayman
Here's a video that will give you a real good idea of what it's like to visit Stingray City at Grand Cayman. includes footage of the rays, with a bonus blowfish thrown in. Near the end of the video, you'll see a lady get a stingray kiss, and then hold the stingray.
Grand Turk, Turks & Caico islands
On my first cruise to Grand Turk, I booked a tour called Reef Snorkel & Stingray Safari. I was not amused. There was no swimming and little chance to observe and interact with the stingrays on your own.
But I'm not YOU. If you just want to see, and touch a ray, while wading in very shallow water, go for it. Your guide may give a short informative talk, and offer an opportunity to kiss a stingray, for "good luck." The kisses are fun, but I suspect the 'good luck' part is made up to appeal to first timers.
The next time I went to Grand Turk, I booked an open water snorkel tour 'suitable for advanced snorkelers,' and liked it better. I even saw a few stingrays.
This photo was taken on that second visit. I've included this particular one because it really illustrates how nicely a stingray can blend in with rocks, coral, and vegitation on the sea floor. Can you find him?
Photo: my own (all rights reserved)
Kids on Stingray Tours
Which Stingray Swim is Best For Children?
The better question is this:
WHICH CHILDREN ARE SUITED FOR A STINGRAY SWIM?
1 - Is the child easily spooked or frightened by new and unusual things? Then, wait until they are older. These are WILD ANIMALS.
2 - Can they swim? I don't men dog-paddle, but SWIM for prolonged periods, without the need to touch bottom. Sea levels vary with tide, and it could be over the child's head. There is no pool edge or raft to cling to.
3 - If the child is not a competent swimmer, are YOU prepared to hold them, while standing in thigh to chest deep water, for at least 45 minutes?
4 - IMPORTANT - Are you absolutely certain the child will understand and follow the guide's instructions to do or not do something, and do it exactly and immediately, without stopping to object, question why, or whine about it? If not, the (unlikely, but possible) consequences of not following instructions are not worth it, I repeat: NOT worth it.
NOTE that the foregoing represents only my opinion, and nothing more. But, maybe it will give you some things to think about.
Sound Off - about This Adventurous Activity
Some people LOVE the idea of swimming with these somewhat stange creatures. Others HATE it. Still others may not have given it much thought.
Now that you've had a chance to read a little bit about rays and the places where you can encounter and swim with them, you probably have some thoughts about it, even if you didn't before. Here's your chance to let everyone know what you think!
What do you think of the idea of swimming with stingrays?
Please say hello, or tell about your stingray experience, if you have one.