Wild Stingray Feeding

Ever been sucked on by a stingray? 

Did you know that you can hand feed a ray? 

In awesome kiwi style the guys at Dive Tatapouri have befriended a couple of the local sting rays and have set up tours where you can either hand feed or snorkel and swim with them. This was definitely an adventure I wasn’t going to miss on our recent cruise around New Zealand’s East Cape. 

Heading out of Gisborne on a mission to drive the East Cape we cruised through Tatapouri and noticed the Dive Tatapouri headquarters. In a now or never kind of moment we pulled in and booked in for the following days reef walk.

The next morning I found myself pulling on borrowed socks and a massive (size 11!) pair of waders. I think I was still a bit bemused. Really, yup, lets go hand feed some stingrays. As in the creatures that killed Steve Irwin.

But I didn’t have much time to dwell. We were instructed to grab a pole (bamboo or cattle prod style) and our small group lined up on the beach in our new ‘wall’ formation. We were given instructions for identifying and feeding the rays, then walked single file out into the reef.

Short-tailed stingrays are larger and rounder than the eagle ray and rarer to sight so I was thrillled to see some join us as well as the eagle rays. Feeding them was an incredible experience. It felt like a gummy vacuum sucking the fish pieces from my fingers. For anyone familiar with calf rearing it’s a whole heap like that. I did nearly run into some trouble when a kingfish that was nearly my size took a swipe at my camera (and my hand!) but this just made for more entertainment. 

To be honest I guess I didn’t really think much of my opinion of stingrays until the end of the session when we were asked “does this change how you feel about them?”. Steve Irwin aside, I put them somewhere below sharks and crocodiles and hugely above jellyfish and water snakes in my things to avoid in the water list. 

A previous shark swim at Napier Aquarium had included rays in the tank, but these hadn’t been mentioned in our instructions and other than giving them space I barely gave them a second thought. 

Having seen a huge short tailed ray suck its way up our guides legs, having even the little eagle rays nudge into us looking for food and the easy way they moved around with us and hearing from the guide that as long as the were confident in approaching us and if we avoided touching certain parts of their bodies were were safe, I’m comfortable in the water around them. 

Feeding wild stingrays by hand like this has really changed my opinion of them and I’m thrilled I gave it a go. This is definitely a must do if you find yourself in the Gisborne/East Cape region.  

Dive Tatapouri is located about 20 minutes drive from Gisborne’s town centre on State Highway 35. They do a variety of tours including a Reef Ecology Tour, Wild Stingray Feeding and Offshore Cage Diving.
Contact: 64-6-8685153 or http://www.divetatapouri.com/

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