Kind of late getting around to this post. I promised the guys at Stingray City that I would blog on their attraction, and it was worth telling the world about. This year, before going on Sail to Success, I decided that I wanted to schedule some shore excursions. I was looking for a swim with the dolphins excursion, but everything I could find interfered with my class schedule, especially the panels I was hosting. I finally found one with stingrays. Stingrays? Aren’t they dangerous? I mean, look what happened to Steve Irvin. I knew a little bit about them, probably not as much as I should, since I grew up on the coast. And I figured it couldn’t be that dangerous, could it? If it were, they wouldn’t let a bunch of dumb ass tourists interact with them. It looked interesting, so I signed up.
The excursion was at Great Stirrup Cay, the island owned by Norwegian Cruise Lines. There really wasn’t a lot there, with the exception of the beach and some concession stands. We came ashore in a boat that could have served well as a landing craft, about an hour before the start. I located the excursion booth, then went to sit on the beach for a little while, talking with Shahid Mamud for part of the time. Then it was to the booth to check in. There was only one couple there, and I was thinking this thing might not be that popular. Ten minutes before the start it started to fill up, and I started to wonder if there might be too many people. We started off about ten minutes late, since some of the passengers had to wander off to get another drink. Then it was a short walk to the docks. I was having trouble walking in the sand that day, and they called a cart to give me a ride. Saved a lot of pain in my hips.
There were two boats, both open jobs with room for about a dozen passengers, with two crew aboard each. It was a quick high speed run out to the enclosure where they kept the stingrays, then another dock. There were masks and snorkels for those who wanted them, then it was into the water. The cold, cold water. I was thinking, since the Bahamas were right off the coast of South Florida the water would be about the same as where I grew up. What I didn’t know was the Bahamas are not in the Gulf Stream, and the Atlantic is a cold ocean. It took some getting used to, but eventually I was in, with everyone else way ahead of me, already feeding the stingrays. I looked to my right and a tight vee formation of rays heading right for me. I was reminded of the silicon creatures in Island of Terror. But since no one else was screaming as they were being attacked, I figured it was safe enough. The rays parted before they got to me and gracefully swung around my body. Graceful. That was the best word to describe the rays. They weaved around the people in the water, hardly ever touching anyone, like birds of the water. You could feed them, and since they didn’t have teeth the worst that could happen was a hickey on your hand.
The guides were all natives of the Bahamas, living on a nearby island and coming to work by boat. One described the island they lived on as paradise. They gave out information about the rays, and it was obvious to this observer that they liked working with their charges. They had names for all the rays, who are not permanent captives, but are rotated back to the wild periodically. The net enclosure was there to protect the rays from hammerhead sharks, their primary predator. They seemed excited to interact with people, especially since there was food in the bargain. The lead guide stated that they ate a high priced diet of ship, oysters and scallops.
I really could not get over how graceful the animals were. It was like they were flying in the water. Not the fastest of birds, but extremely maneuverable. They wove in and out of people. Every once in a while a wing would touch me. Their skin is rough, but a covering of slime makes that skin slick, and it was not unpleasant.
And then came my turn to hold one while my picture was taken. Yeah, that white boy is me. I don’t get out much, being a writer. The animal was surprisingly docile, staying still while I supported it in the water. It was a terrific experience holding a wild animal of the shark family.
I would recommend Stingray City Bahamas to anyone who happens to go on one of the cruises that stops at one of the nearby islands. Yeah, I wanted to swim with the dolphins, but the rays were also very cool. The staff was friendly and well informed, and, being a scifi writer, I had images of different creatures in my mind based on the rays. But the ones I develop might elicit some screaming and yelling when they are let loose on the spectators.