Stingray City


June 28, 2019

I think every place that has dive or snorkelling sites must have a Stingray City.  Oftentimes the site name refers to things that, at one point, must have frequented the location.  But more often than not, current sightings of whatever the site was named for are far and few in between.

Such is definitely NOT the case here.

Local history credits fishermen over a hundred years ago with inadvertently creating Stingray City when they threw the entrails of fish that were being cleaned overboard at this location.  Over time, stingrays began to gather in larger and larger numbers, and eventually came to associate boats with a free buffet.

Now, dozens and dozens of boats ferry hundreds of people out each day, essentially creating a corresponding boat city there from sunrise to sunset.  The boats that feed the stingrays propagate this expectation of free food and… voila!  Hoards of stingrays are all but guaranteed all day long, every day.  We had heard the stingrays climb all over people, sometimes even leaving massive hickeys on the bodies of the spectators.

We were more than a bit apprehensive about the feeding aspect of the encounter.

Well… let’s face it… we’re dive snobs.

Our time at Scuba Junkie relentlessly pounded into our DNA the virtues of nonintrusive observation.  Feeding wild animals only contributes to animal dependance and unnatural behaviour.  In some cases it can make animals aggressive, if they begin to associate people with food but are not given that food.

Likewise, the touching of animals in the wild is solely for the benefit of the people doing the touching.  Unintentional transmission of germs or disease can result in the animal’s death.  Some marine creatures (coral and turtles, for example) are covered with a protective coating on their skin.  Any contact can rub that coating off, exposing the animals to disease.

Grand Cayman’s Stingray City is located at the edge fo the reef in North Bay, about two miles from the location we anchored after returning from the States and departing Barcadere Marina.  It is one of a tiny handful of spots that allows anchoring in the entirety of the Cayman Islands.

We had been at anchor for nearly a week already, and had been scoping out the location from our boat.  It was easy to see… the spot on the horizon that always had at least a dozen boats congregated.  It became clear that early morning, noon, or late afternoon were the prime times to go if you wanted to miss the biggest crowds.

So we hopped in the dinghy at 7:00am, jetted out to the site (which already had two boats at anchor there), and hopped in the water.

Holy Shit!!!

All skepticism regarding the appropriateness of the name “Stingray City” evaporated instantly.  It truly was a city of stingrays. 

We were glad that, though we didn’t have any food with us, the stingrays still were inquisitive enough to check us out, swimming past a few times before continuing on towards one of the other boats that did bring food.

It only took a peek around the stern of one of those boats to witness the carnage that ensued with the promise of food for the stingrays.  Normally graceful and shy, the stingrays were all over the tourists.  Normally ungraceful and obnoxious, the tourists were even more so!

We spent nearly an hour there at The Sandbank (as it is also called due to the fact that the depth is only three to ten feet in the whole area).  It was mesmerising to watch what appeared to be three distinct species of stingrays as they passed back and forth.   Sometimes alone, sometimes in pairs or small groups, sometimes in what appeared to be a Stealth Bomber squadron formation.

Another perfect example when the snorkelling was absolutely amazing, and scuba gear was not even necessary.

And then… and then… and then…

Just as the number of other boats that had arrived was beginning to approach “silly”, and we were getting ready to head back to the Mothership, it happened…

I was underwater taking a video of a nearby group of stingrays, when I felt Kris grab me and forcibly turn my head around.

Initially, I thought she was directing me towards another stingray shot… boy, was I wrong.

There… right in front of us… less than ten meters away… a GREAT HAMMERHEAD SHARK!!!!!!!!!

In four feet of water… while we were snorkelling… I shit you not.

This was Kris’ second Great Hammerhead sighting ever, but my first.  The previous time, in Australia, was something I had never lived down for missing.

But not this time.  Right in front of us… big as life.

Of course, the deer in the headlight moment which followed the girl-like squeal I emitted resulted in a less than perfect video of the now departing beauty.

But hey… what the hell… we both saw it this time.  Thanks for that, Kris!

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