After I finished writing my post about diving with stingrays in Stingray City, Grand Cayman, I wondered if it was ethical. After all, you are feeding wild animals and it isn’t just you. It’s half the people you are diving with (one container of squid per two buddies) and all of the other people visiting Stingray City that day… and that year… and so forth.
Is it ethical to dive with stingrays at Stingray City?
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Is it ethical to dive Stingray City?
I did some research:
- Squid isn’t normally a part of a stingray’s diet. Strike one.
- Stingrays hunt alone at night. These rays are being fed during the day, while swarming in groups. Strike 2.
- Stingrays normally cover long distances while looking for food. These guys and gals are homebodies. Strike 3. (All information in this list is from this source).
It seemed so innocent at the time. Legend has it that the stingrays started gathering in Stingray City because fisherman were dumping the fish guts into the water. It happened to be in a sandy and shallow area where rays normally feed. Then, along came divers and snorkelers.
Who Was First?
The divers came first. Two of them to be exact. In 1981, two dive instructors named Jay Ireland and Pat Kenney decided to take the risk. Back then, not much was known about rays. They were feared creatures and it took a lot of guts (no pun intended, or is it?) to get into the water with the majestic rays. The area became famous around 1987 and now, it is an extremely popular tourist spot within Grand Cayman.
There are two areas referred to as Stingray City. The one also known as the Valley of the Rays is the real Stingray City. This area is 12-15 feet deep and also the spot I dove. The other one is the sandbar, no diving equipment needed (Source and source).
What Has Changed?
Human interactions with this area have changed the habits of the local population of of rays. They are more aggressive towards each other and are having babies year round, without regard to their normal cycle. Their changed behavior is also affecting the ecosystem around them, but it sounds like that hasn’t been studied in depth yet.
Is there a positive?
There is one good thing about diving with stingrays. Rays are no longer feared man killers. And though their habits have changed, the creatures have been observed foraging for food when tourists aren’t present (source).
Ethically, feeding the rays is a pretty bad idea. Kissing them and holding them for selfies is also not a good idea (probably worse). To be candid, the experience is awesome and a little disconcerting. You will be up close and personal with them, whether you like it or not. You simply cannot get the same type of encounter diving or snorkeling a reef. Diving with and feeding rays is a manufactured experience, though. Snorkeling and diving a reef is a much better way to see a stingray behaving like a stingray (they will avoid the heck out of you).
Did I make the wrong choice?
Pretty much yes.
It’s a hard realization to swallow. I’m glad we weren’t handling the animals, kissing, or taking selfies with them. Is there a way to turn this amazing experience into one that wouldn’t be hard on the conscience? I hope so. I do believe that special experiences shape us and help us to increase our empathy and be more aware of what is around us. Rays are now regarded as gentle creatures and aren’t being massacred out of fear, like some species. They are, however, eaten in some parts of the world. Bounties are also placed on their heads in other areas, because they destroy the shell fishing grounds (though the latter statement was found on Wikipedia and I couldn’t verify it).
That said, these are my opinions. I did it in 2004 without thinking about the consequences, so I can’t really tell you “do it” or “don’t do it.” That’s up to you and what your conscience tells you to do. I know what mine is telling me and it’s saying to research animal attractions beforehand so I don’t make this mistake again.
Is it possible to have special, life-changing experiences with animals that don’t have a negative impact on the animals in question? Have you regretted supporting certain types of animal tourism? Do you still want to do a Stingray City dive?