July 2019:  On a day long layover in between our flight from Montserrat island and Dominica, my wife Paula and I visited the Caribbean Island nation of Antigua. Antigua, an English-speaking travel hub for the region with a lot of tourist infrastructure, is very easy to navigate and I organized a taxi to take us to a sting ray marine reserve on the other side of the island from the airport called Antigua Sting Ray City, where we could swim with the largest species of sting rays in the Americas, the Southern Sting Ray. The sting ray reserve was very organized, and we booked a boat trip to the outer reef where approx. 30-40 wild Southern sting rays are accustomed to being fed by the guides while snorkelers swim in their presence. We swam with them on the inner side of the outer reef and sting rays were free to  go as they wished, so the experience was wild and not like being in a zoo. The giant sting rays have stinger barbs and are fully capable of dispensing a lethal and venemous sting if stepped on or handled improperly but thankfully they are docile and seem to understand that the price of being fed is to be a circus act for the tourists and they typically don’t sting anyone. Of course, there are exception and according to one guide it does happen occasionally.

 

Where is Antigua

Map of Antigua

The eyes and mouths of the sting rays are strangely human looking. Paula and walked among the giant sting rays, which gracefully glide by you rubbing against your legs and sometimes even coming up for a nibble on your leg or feet with their strange teeth. The sting rays inhale their prey and use their tooth like structures mostly to latch on to the prey. The Antiguan guides will pick them up and feed them small squid and even let you hold one or feed it. It is a very strange experience to have them suck the squid from your hand.

In the height of their feeding frenzy, the sting rays seemed to ambush us from all directions and I constantly walked around the water with one hand guarding my privates because I was paranoid after watching the sting rays inhale their food. I’m glad I did because one of them came straight towards me in the excitement of a feeding frenzy and slurped on my hand that was guarding my nether regions and the vacuum that the sting rays induce is definitely not weak. To visit the sting rays you can’t be squemaish around them. They will touch you, and sometimes even aggresively but as long as you are gentle, careful and shuffle your feet to avoid stepping on the barbs of their tales, you will be ok.

 

 

 

Paula being attacked by a hunfry sting ray. The guide had to pull it away

Snorkeling with sting rays

Paula feeding the sting ray

Mouth of sting ray

Sting ray brushing up on Paula from behind

One must shuffle their feet to avoid being stung

Paula and I with a giant sting ray

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