Stingray City is one of the most famous of nature’s attractions in Grand Cayman Island .
This is an area of ocean close to the northern tip of Grand Cayman where tourists can get in close proximity to hundreds of friendly stingrays. Stingray City can get quite busy especially when the cruise ships are in port. Fortunately for the scuba divers, the masses are taken to a shallower area of Stingray City where the water is only waist deep.
Scuba divers are taken by one of the many dive operators in Grand Cayman to the deeper section of Stingray City. However, this deeper area is still quite shallow dive by scuba diving standards. In fact, Stingray City has been referred to in the scuba diving world as the best twelve foot or four metre dive in the world.
It is said that many years ago, sailors coming to the area threw fish remains overboard and soon observed the stingrays coming for the food. These particular stingrays became conditioned over the years to the humans and the food handouts unlike stingrays elsewhere in the Caribbean. Normally these animals are quite shy and will swim away from you, but not those here at Stingray City.
The dive boat took us to a special site and indeed the depth was very shallow as we could easily see the bottom. The site itself was fairly bare with just the odd reef cluster around a mostly sandy sea bed. The divemaster gave us instruction on how to interact with the stingrays warning everyone that even though they will appear friendly, they should still be regarded as wild animals. We were told not to touch them by their razor sharp tails or harrass them in any manner. A bucket filled with bait (squid) was suspended in the water underneath the dive boat and we used this to feed the stingrays.
As soon as we entered into the water and made our descent to the bottom, we could see the first few stingrays coming towards us like UFOs. The divemasters showed us to hold the squid in our closed fists and then move our arms in wide circular arcs around us. We were able to make the stingrays follow our hands. It was like teasing them for a bit before giving them their treats. Their mouths were underneath their flat bodies and we were shown how to hold the food in our palms flat facing up when feeding them. The divemaster demonstrated this on the boat using a little stingray toy during the briefing.
With their keen sense of smell, the stingrays flew towards and over the food to collect their squid titbits. It’s was amazing to see how fast they could stop in the water if they sensed food. They don’t have any teeth but have these two strong structures like vice grips in their mouths they use to chew with. Feeding them sometimes felt like a vacuum cleaner sucking up bits from our palms. Sometimes, we felt their vice grip mouths close up against the flats of our palms. This is why we were advised to keep our palms as flat as possible in order to avoid them from closing up on our fingers. Because the eyes of the stingrays were on the top of their bodies, they couldn’t see our palms when they hovered directly over them. They would have to guess where our palms and the food were.
At one point, I was holding on to the food a little too long in order to further tease one stingray. This one missed my palm and his jaw closed down on my forearm instead leaving me with a handsome bruise. It was my fault since the stingray couldn’t see and thought that my forearm was my palm holding the squid. I was a bit stupid and should have paid more attention to where the stingray’s mouth was. No other diver on our boat had any mishap.
Some of the stingrays although not aggressive, will be all over a diver if they still smell food but couldn’t find the palm. It was hilarious to watch some other divers pushed over on the sandy bottom by a stingray trying to find the squid. One large stingray even bumped me in the scuba mask but it was all fun. When the stingrays sense that a diver doesn’t have any food after a while, they will go towards another diver that does.
Stingray City dive is a single tank trip usually done in the afternoon. It is a unique dive that is worth doing but keep in mind that the stingrays are the only attractions during this dive. There isn’t much else to see in terms of other marine life or coral reefs at the site so it would be better to spend the morning doing some reef dives too in order to take in the best that Grand Cayman scuba diving has to offer.
Clint Leung is a NAUI certified Master and Rescue Scuba Diver. He is also owner of Free Spirit Activewear http://www.FreeSpiritActivewear.com, an online retailer/designer specializing in premium quality scuba diving activewear. Also numerous articles on scuba diving. Thanks Clint!