Stingray City southern stingrays, known to science as Dasyatis americana, are the reason most tourists who aren’t money launderers head for Grand Cayman instead of a more affordable island destination. It’s a place where you can swim with and feed a whole heckuva lot of stingrays. In operation since 1986, it’s the longest-running and most popular stingray ecotourism site in the world, attracting over one million visitors a year.
And it’s a whole lot more than just swimming with the fishes. Apparently, people get really emotional during the experience, hugging and even kissing the food-hustling finned critters. Don’t believe me? Visit a site called Cayman Condos for the photographic evidence. You’ll see a family with a toddler swimming with the rays, a pony-tailed girl kissing a ray while her male companion looks on in mock horror, and not one but two guys hugging and being hugged by the animals.
More than just another five-star reviewed attraction on Trip Advisor, Stingray City has garnered enthusiastic comments such as GVTraveler49’s: “My wife has never seemed to enjoy herself as much as when she walked the sandbar with the Stingrays.”
Wow. Those stingrays are apparently some really good stuff. But how do they react to all this hugging, kissing, loving, and feeding?
A new study published Monday in open access science journal PLOS One has now revealed how these savvy rays have adapted their behavior to take advantage of all the free-flowing freebies coming their way.
Scientists from Nova Southeastern University’s Guy Harvey Research Institute and the University of Rhode Island used telemetry to track two different populations of stingrays — those who were fed by tourists and those who lived at distant control sites where they went unfed.
The untouristed rays were shy, nocturnal, and unsociable, almost never encountering another stingray in the normal course of a night’s hunt. That, apparently, is the natural way of their people.
By contrast, the Stingray City dwellers were bold and happy to rub shoulders with other rays, let alone with their human benefactors. They couldn’t have failed to notice that cruise ship visitors are arriving in the day, so they switched their schedule to come out in the daytime.
And, instead of just meeting and mating on rare occasions during the breeding season, the urbanized stingrays were able to get it on and get pregnant all year round. They were a little more aggressive too, sometimes nipping another ray that got in their way.
Sounds like a typical tourist town to me. Everybody’s pushing and shoving to get a shot at the visitor’s dollar.
Have you seen the Stingray City rays?
[diver with rays at stingray city courtesy Kfulgham84 and Wikipedia]