How To Swim With Stingrays: Full Guide

how to swim with stingrays

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Today I will address a thought that has probably been living rent-free in your mind for quite a while now: how to swim with stingrays

You and I have both been there; mindlessly scrolling through Instagram’s or Facebook’s feed and then suddenly boom!

You come across Barbara’s vacation pictures in the Caribbean, she is swimming in crystal clear water surrounded by stingrays.

The stingrays really do look like water angels in the beautiful blue tropical water with their massive wingspan of around 122 cm / 48 in., swimming gracefully among the snorkelers who eagerly feed them.

What a fun time everyone seems to be having, you think it would be fun to swim with them too. 

Then you remember the devastating fact that everyone’s favorite zoologist, Steve Irwin, was killed by a stingray so these creatures couldn’t possibly be so harmless right?

Luckily for you and me, it is possible to enjoy this dreamy experience without putting yourself at risk.

Let’s break down how to do it.

Do People Really Swim With Stingrays?

People swim with stingrays all the time! It is actually the most popular aquatic attraction offered by cruise lines and resorts in the Caribbean. An impressive 1 million tourists participate in the “swim with stingrays” tours every year in the Cayman Islands alone.

There are around 200 different species of stingrays that vary greatly in size, color, and distribution.

The ones you saw on Barbara’s Facebook pics from her vacation in the Bahamas were most likely either Southern stingrays or cow nose stingrays.

Is It Safe To Swim With Stingrays?

Considering the fact that there have only been 17 human deaths caused by stingrays worldwide EVER I will dare to say that it is very safe to swim with these beautiful creatures. For reference, around 1,500 people die every year because they fall from a tree.

These animals are very docile and will only attack if startled or feeling threatened, however, you must keep in mind that their stinger has venomous barbs that deliver a very painful sting.

The venom is not powerful enough to kill a human but it will be very painful for a few hours.

Although it is extremely rare to die from a stingray attack (only 2 deaths related to stingrays have happened in Australia since 1945 with Steve Irwin’s being one of them), non-fatal attacks are rare, but happen quite a bit.

Attacks are never the product of an aggressive stingray out to get unsuspecting beachgoers, instead, it is an involuntary reflex by which a stingray will quickly flick its barbed stinger upwards if it is stepped on, picked up unexpectedly, or disturbed in any way that startles it. 

The only deaths have occurred when the stinger goes into the abdominal cavity or the chest piercing vital organs, the latter was the unfortunate case of the crocodile hunter.

Most injuries occur on the feet or legs when someone accidentally steps on a resting stingray. 

These injuries while extremely painful are usually easy to manage as long as you get medical assistance.

They might need stitches and you could end up in crutches for the rest of your tropical vacation but expected to make a speedy and complete recovery.

How To Swim With Stingrays: (The Right Way)

If you have made up your mind and have decided that you will book your stingray swimming experience for your next vacation the best way to stay safe is to book a paid tour. 

The operators have been doing it for a long time and will tell you everything you need to know to have a safe and memorable experience.

In the unfortunate (and unlikely) scenario that you did get accidentally stung these same operators will know exactly what to do to get you the help you need. 

I would highly recommend you chose the tour operator for this experience in advance.

Due to how profitable this business is there are a lot of not-so-professional people out there who are just trying to make the most money without having the stingrays’ or tour goers’ safety as their priority. 

When choosing your operator I would look at the following things:

  • Reviews from people who have booked this particular tour before.
  • The number of people that goes on each tour. If the number is too high it’s likely that money is the priority and you won’t get quality attention. It’s better to choose an operator that takes small groups (max. 10 people) ensuring he can really keep an eye on everyone.
  • Call before booking the tour and ask about the safety guidelines. A reputable operator will be able to provide you with detailed safety regulations and an emergency plan.

Can You Swim With All Stingrays?

In theory, yes, but in reality, you will usually swim with only about 7 species of stingray; the cow nose stingray and the southern stingray when in the Caribbean.

The smooth ray, southern eagle ray, southern fiddler ray, and coastal stingaree in Australia.

It’s not a matter of whether there are species that are particularly dangerous or not but more an issue of geographical distribution. 

What Not To Do Whilst Swimming With Stingrays

As I mentioned before, a reputable tour operator will give you all the instructions and guidelines regarding what can and can’t be done when swimming with stingrays.

Nevertheless, I have compiled a list of a few big NO-NOs to keep in mind when in the water with these gorgeous animals.

  • Do not walk with sturdy, heavy steps like you normally would as it will increase your chances of stepping on a stingray. Instead, shuffle your feet without lifting them completely from the sea bottom.
  • Don’t overfeed! It’s easy to get carried away and throw out lots of food so that you’re surrounded by stingrays for that perfect photo. This, however, is a formula for disaster as you’ll get swarmed and possibly lose your footing which could result in you stepping on a ray.
  • NEVER attempt to touch the tail of a stingray. Remember this is where the venomous stingers are located.
  • NEVER swim directly over a stingray. This is how they get startled and you could end up with the stinger on your abdomen or chest.
  • Don’t attempt to approach, feed, or touch stingrays unless you’re on a guided tour with trained professionals. Most stingrays on these tours have completely modified their behavior and are very used to interacting with people so it’s not easy to startle them.

Final Thoughts

I hope that this guide to safely swimming with stingrays will help you plan your future underwater adventure with these dreamy creatures.

Just remember that they are wild animals that deserve your respect and have the potential to hurt you if feeling threatened.

As long as you book a reputable tour and follow instructions you will enjoy the experience of a lifetime getting up close to stingrays in their natural environment.