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Your Temporary Caymanian Pet: a Stingray

Grand Cayman is home to one of the most unusual underwater attractions in the world, Stingray City. Set in the sun-flooded, 4m-deep (13-ft.) waters of North Sound, about 3km (1 3/4 miles) east of the island's northwestern tip, the site started to become popular in the mid-1980s when local fishermen would clean their catches and dump the offal overboard. They began to notice scores of stingrays (which usually eat marine crabs) feeding on the debris, a phenomenon that quickly attracted local divers and marine zoologists. Today, between 30 and 50 relatively tame stingrays hover around the site for daily handouts of squid and ballyhoo from increasing hordes of snorkelers and divers. About half a dozen entrepreneurs lead expeditions from points along Seven Mile Beach, traveling around the landmass of Conch Point to the feeding grounds. The previously recommended Red Sail Sports offers one-tank scuba dives to Stingray City, priced at US$75; snorkel excursions cost US$88 for adults and US$44 for children 3-11.

Warning: Stingrays possess deeply penetrating and viciously barbed stingers capable of inflicting painful damage to anyone who mistreats them. Need we mention the death in 2006 of Australian animal adventurer Steve Irwin, who received a barb from a stingray directly in his chest? A local spokesperson for Red Sail emphasizes that Irwin's stingray was of a more aggressive and larger breed than what you're likely to encounter in the Cayman Islands. She referred to the relatively tame beasts in Caymanian waters as equivalent to "big, sloppy puppy dogs," and the experience overall as "great fun." Nevertheless, we are not amused by this as a pastime, and simply cannot gush with any genuine thrill or enthusiasm. If you opt for an adventure with one of these underwater beasts "close up, touchy-feely, and personal," be alert, and don't make any fast moves (the rays can panic, we're told). And above all, as the divers say, never try to grab one by the tail.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.