They are the laid back cousin of sharks, majestically pre-historic looking, and spellbinding in footage ‘flying’ through the ocean on ‘wings’.
Stingrays are not as dangerous as their name implies, and for one eco-tour operator on Grand Bahama Island, they live up to their nickname: ‘angels of the seas’.
Keith Cooper is known throughout the island as the ‘Stingray Whisperer.’ Keith has been working with stingrays for over a dozen years and has actually developed a personal bond with a number of stingrays who make their home in warm, Bahamian waters.
Visitors to the Bahamas can get a taste of Keith’s magical relationship with stingrays – and maybe create a little magic of their own.
The ‘Stingray Whisperer’s’ company, West End Ecology Tours, has a signature 'Stingray Experience Tour' that gives you an opportunity to safely interact with these misunderstood sea creatures in their natural element.
Well aware that in many parts of the world, stingrays are in danger of extinction, Keith’s company - and the Stingray Experience Tour - is dedicated to the conservation and preservation of the eco system and the stingrays themselves.
Their name sounds intimidating, but most stingrays are curious and inquisitive rather than threatening. Like their cousins, the sharks, stingrays are built of cartilage instead of bones. Unlike sharks, they don’t rely on sharp teeth, but instead, spines on their tails for protection. And they are truly unique in the sea in their elegant, winged form and movement.
The truly off the beaten path adventure of Keith Cooper’s Stingray Experience Tour takes place on a deserted island or a shallow water cay off Grand Bahama Island.
A maximum of six guests are on each tour, and before stepping out of the boat, Keith explains the guidelines and rules to the visitors that make the tour an entirely safe, memorable and ecologically sustainable experience for the visitors.
The number of stingrays that participate on tour could reach up to 16. After establishing their presence, visitors are allowed to touch, feed and even snorkel with the stingrays toward the end of the visit. This provides a fantastic opportunity to see the stingrays flap their wings as they glide like 'angels' through the water. It ensures that each visitor has an up-close and intimate encounter with a misjudged 'angel' of the sea.
Keith says there is no magic formula to attract the stingrays he has bonded with, that gather round when he arrives. He says rays have a remarkable capacity to remember, and over time, they have learned to feel comfortable with him. The Stingray Whisperer has named some of these rays according to their colourful and indvidual personalities. There is 'Hugger,' 'Big Momma', 'Dark Chocolate,' 'Scarface,' and 'Lunatic,' to name a few. His relationship with some of these rays dates back as much as 12 years.
What makes the tour so unique is that it’s more than observing the rays, along with the colourful fish and other marine life snorkeling in the stunning azure waters. You also have the intimate experience of feeding and getting to know these lovely and friendly creatures.
Keith and his team take extreme care not to exploit or overfeed the animals. This is an educational tour carefully crafted taking considerable precautions to protect wildlife.
Meeting the Stingray Whisperer might be just one day of your trip to the islands of the Bahamas. But you’ll create a lifetime of memories up close and personal with the ‘angels of the seas.’
Images of West End Ecology Tours courtesy of The Bahamas Ministry of Tourism & Aviation
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