Have Twins, Will Travel

Stingray City

Grand Cayman – The Wreck Bar at Rum Point posts a lists of Questions Not to Ask, ie, dumb questions frequently asked by tourists. (Example: “Do you live here?” Answer: “No, we jetski in from Miami daily.”)

Or this one: Is there good shopping at Stingray City?

Answer: Sure, but payment is in $quid only!

Stingray City is not a shopping mall, of course, but a sandbar in the North Sound, where southern stingrays congregate around tourists boats for free squid snacks.

Back in the day, fishermen cleaned their fish in these calm shallow waters, throwing the guts overboard and attracting the rays. Soon, the stingrays learned that the sound of a boat engine meant food. With the increase in tourism, boats came just to see the rays–and eventually, to feed, stroke, snuggle, kiss and photograph the rays. Nowadays, it is the number one attraction in the Cayman Islands.

The day I was there, our tour boat was one of three or four. But when multiple cruise ships are in port, thousands of people might be at Stingray City.


Stingray City, Grand Cayman

How cool is it to be swarmed by a fever of stingrays? Very cool. (And yes, a group of rays is called a fever, which is also very cool.)

As I already knew from the touch tank at the New England Aquarium, stingrays are soft. At Stingray City, they are also friendly–borderline affectionate–especially if you have squid in your hand. It is a thrill to see them by the dozen, gliding gracefully through the crystal clear waters and around your legs.

And yet… this experience left a funny taste in my mouth.

For starters, the feeding of the stingrays may be problematic. Studies have shown that the stingrays have unusual growth (since they have an unbalanced diet) and have oddball schedules (normally they are nocturnal).

The bigger problem, for me, was the human interaction – the hand-feeding, the stroking, the photographs. On our boat, every single passenger was photographed holding a stingray, kissing a stingray, and getting a massage from a stingray. (That last one is just weird.)

I felt pretty stupid posing for these photos, which I declined to purchase for extra $$$$. I can’t imagine how the poor stingray felt.

Personally, I would have enjoyed this outing more if it were less interactive. Observing wildlife is one of the greatest thrills of travel. But the moment that we start forcing ourselves on the wild animals, it loses something big. It loses the wildness.