Southern Stingray

No, it's not really a city! There are no tall buildings! There are no restaurants! No cars, buses, trains or planes! So, then, what is Stingray City?

Stingray City is unlike any other place I've ever visited. Stingray City is an area located in Grand Cayman's North Sound not far from the barrier reef. Many years ago the local fishermen stopped in the area to clean their daily catch, discarding the unwanted fish parts overboard. Over time this attracted hordes of Southern Stingrays to the area. As the fishermen would arrive the Stingrays would gather awaiting their free meal. Over the years these Stingrays became accustomed to their human neighbors who fed them and eventually someone got into the water with them. From then on it was history.

Stingray City is probably the most popular tourist spot on the island. While it may not be totally responsible for attracting the thousands of tourists that visit the Cayman Islands annually, I'm sure it attracts many of them who happen to stop while on a cruise of the Caribbean. Here at Stingray City the average tourists can rub elbows with one of the sea's most reportedly dangerous animals, the Stingray. We've all heard stories of someone being stung by a Stingray, how much it hurts and how long it takes to heal, but, here at Stingray City everyone willingly jumps into the water and lets these animals swarm around them, rub up against them, and even wrap their wings around them. It may seem unnatural to many but, to me, it's perfectly natural. Name an animal that won't come for food. No matter how dangerous they are they will come for food and, if not threatened, they usually won't harm you. Most cases of people being stung by Stingrays occur when someone accidentally steps on one in shallow water near the beach. It is a defensive action and not an intentional, aggressive action. When I approach Stingrays while diving they always move off in the opposite direction.

There are two ways to visit Stingray City. As a diver or as a snorkeler. If you are diving you will be on the deeper part of the sandbar where the water is 12 to 20 feet deep. If you are snorkeling you will be in the heart of the sandbar where the water is only 3 to 5 feet deep. The best method to visit Stingray City is , by far, diving.

When diving you will be in a small group of ten to twenty divers. You wear no fins as they may hurt the Rays that congregate around you. You are over weighted to keep you on the bottom. Arriving at the bottom the group forms a circle, and the divemaster, carrying a jug full of cut up squid and fish pieces, swims from diver to diver doling out a piece of food to each. The Stingrays, following the divemaster, soon surround you. Knowing you have food you are totally surrounded by Rays. They rub against you, almost caressing you with their bodies and wings. It's an absolutely marvelous feeling to have these majestic animals swarming around you. They can be, and often are, somewhat aggressive in trying to get the food from you. No they won't sting or bite you (they don't have teeth), but they will be all over you looking for that food. Not just one, but many!

Feeding the Stingrays while underwater is a more personal experience. You get to see them clearly and enjoy the activity. A Rays mouth is located on its underside. They eat by sucking their food in. When viewed from the bottom you can actually see right through them. Sensing the smell of the food they position their mouth next to the food source and suck the food

Stingray swimming near me
Me with a Stingray overhead at Stingray City
in, you might consider them to be a living vacuum cleaner. You need to be somewhat careful when feeding them by hand. When they close their mandibles they can pinch you and cause an scrape or pinching injury, but it's not a serious injury.
Stingrays searching for food
Stingrays and Yellowtail Snapper
encircling a diver in search of food
Anne video taping a stingray
Anne taking a videotape of a
Stingray as it swims by
Divemaster with the food
Stingrays following the divemaster with
the food jug

On our first two trips to Cayman we visited Stingray City as divers, but this last one we went as snorkelers because we were with my sister and her husband, both non-divers and one a non-swimmer (my sister). It was a totally different experience and not as enjoyable as when diving. For one thing you don't get the view of the Stingrays that you have when anchored to the bottom. You see a gray mass swim by, but you can't easily differentiate the animal's details. Second, most of the time you've bobbing on the surface and it's difficult with other around you to control yourself. Someone is almost always running into you or jumping in front of you and blocking your view. We were fortunate in that we secured a trip on a boat with only 15 or 16 people. When we were preparing to leave Stingray City several boats arrived carrying from 70 to 100 passengers from the cruise boats that docked earlier in the day. I'm so happy we left when we did as it would have been totally impossible with that many people in the water. Keep in mind that it isn't deep and it's a sandbar. Any movement on the bottom serves only to kick up the sediment and sand reducing the visibility considerably.

While the diving was a bit better, there were a couple of things that were enjoyable about the snorkeling trip. See the pictures below:

Stingray spitting at you Left: One of the crew who entered the water with us picked up one of the Rays and gave us a good view of the underside and mouth. He also let Anne cuddle one in her arms, sorry no picture, but I know she enjoyed it. My sister snorkeling to see the Stingrays
Above right: One of the enjoyable parts of the snorkeling trips was that I got to see my sister, Carol, get her face wet. Poor thing. She can't swim very good, but she tries. She had a bit of a frightening experience last year in Aruba and she was still a bit leery of being in water over her head. You've got to give her credit because she wants to do it so much and she won't give up.