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Monday, January 20, 2014

The Stingray Bay Program — Swim with Stingrays!

Imagine: You are going to see stingrays. Correction: you are going to swim with stingrays! 

You have heard about Steve Irwin the crocodile hunter, and how a stingray was the cause of his death. You have also heard good things about stingrays, so you decide to sign up for the Stingray Bay Program. You and a group of others file into a briefing area that sits in front of a beautiful shallow ocean lagoon. People of all ages (even kids as young as five!) are waiting along with you. You can feel the nervous energy in the air. You feel a sense of fear trickle down your spine, and wonder if you should have signed up for a different activity. Just as you think you can’t take the tension any longer, a stingray trainer walks out into the center of the stingray pool and welcomes everyone to Stingray Bay. He starts out by addressing the fears that are on the forefront of our minds.

“Stingrays became very popular in September 2006, after the incident that caused the death of the famous Croc Hunter “Steve Irwin”. Today you have nothing to be afraid of, because we have surgically removed the barbs from our stingrays, so we can guarantee that this is going to be a very safe experience.”

He then holds up a stingray’s barb, while other crewmembers pass around similar barbs for you to examine.

“The barbs look just like this one; the pain they cause is considered to be number 10 in the countdown of the worst pains ever felt by humans.”

 “If you look closely, you can see where it is in the tail that the barbs normally grow.”

“Stingrays do NOT attack people, but I would like to give you guys a tip, so you don’t get hurt by stingrays if swimming or walking in stingray infested water. Just do what we call ‘The Stingray Shuffle’, and the stingrays will steer clear.”

As he is saying this he is gently holding a stingray. He then begins to point out the anatomy of the beautiful animal.

“Now we can see the eyes located on top of their heads. Right behind the eyes there are two holes called spiracles, and they are used for breathing.”

He turns the stingray on it’s back!

“Here you can see: the mouth, the gills and the sexual organs.”
He rubs the docile creature’s belly!

“…And enough talking, let’s make small groups to enter the water, and follow the trainers’ instructions.”

You split into small groups of four and enter the water with a trainer leading the way. Half of you stand to the right of the trainer and half to the left. The trainer hands out some fish.

To you he says, “Please feed the stingray!”

and to everyone else, “Please pet and feel the stingray’s skin.”

You find yourself fascinated, and the creature seems to enjoy the attention. The trainer points out all of the stingray’s organs, and explains their behaviors, habits, and the importance of their existence. He also talks about Reef Alliance and ocean conservancy. You begin to pet the tips of the stingray’s wings. They seem to respond to your touch, and their velvety slick texture is so different than anything you have felt before. You completely forget your fear, and feel an intense connection to these beautiful animals.

You then get to pose for the photo of a lifetime! A true token of the experience! The trainers release everyone for a time of free swim and snorkeling with the stingrays. You watch them fly through the water with their velveteen wings, and as you exit the pool you swear that the stingrays are waving goodbye. Your euphoria follows you home, and you spend hours regaling the story to your family and friends, but the words are not enough. You plan to bring everyone you know back to Stingray Bay.

Stingray Bay strives to increase education and awareness about stingrays through its entertaining, hands-on interactions. In general, the public’s fascination with stingrays is also marked with trepidation and misunderstanding; often intensified by media hype, movies and common misconceptions. Such feelings cause many people to ignore and/or avoid these remarkable creatures. In an attempt to dispel these false fears and instill a new wonder for stingrays, Stingray Bay encourages its guests to actually interact with these animals—hands-on!

During the experience, guests can touch, pet, swim with, and feed these intelligent fish. As participants spend time with the animals and face their fears, they also learn about the rays’ eating habits, anatomy, habitat, and the importance of the animals’ roles in their eco-systems. This intimate introduction between guests and stingrays provides a significant connection for the guest, increasing their knowledge and compassion for the animal.

Participants have shared that the experience is emotional; their poignant interaction with the rays leads to a newfound respect and appreciation. Each and every guest walks away with the knowledge that stingrays are peaceful and playful creatures. As they say, knowledge is power; and the benefit of spreading knowledge to Stingray Bay guests results in a powerful trickle down effect. The knowledge and enthusiasm shared by our guests disseminates to friends and family back home, creating greater awareness, appreciation, and ultimately strengthening conservation efforts for these incredible animals.

Here is a list of locations that offer the stingray interaction program. Check back for announcements about new locations opening soon!

Dolphin Cove, Jamaica            
Ocean Adventures, Dominican Republic      
Sea TREK® with Stingrays, Mexico