little things

Little Things in the ocean are exciting too

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I often wonder, is it a lack of education, or a lack of interest? When I take people diving I always like to show them the signs for the marine life we are likely to encounter. Yet it seems that usually, whenever I mention frogfish or nudibranchs I am met with looks of confusion. Other times I show people a small nudibranch and they hover 5ft above me and nod giving me the ok signal. Meanwhile, I know full well there is no way they really saw the tiny creature from that far away. It all makes me wonder; is it weird to like the little things?

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It Not Just Nudis

While guiding I also like to show people more common creatures that are easy to glance over. One of my favourites being the Panamic Barnacle Blenny, a small goggly-eyed fish that lives in holes in the reef. (See Video Above) I also point out Star of David Urchins, Christmas tree worms, and other small goodies on our reefs. Yet I never know if I’m going to get a ‘wow face’ or an ‘oh that’s nice face’.

Personally, I love discovering these little, hidden treasures. No matter what face I get underwater, once we return to the surface the main excitement always falls first and foremost to the big guys. The rays, the turtles and the sharks. Not that I don’t enjoy these beautiful animals, but they always take precedence over the little guys. But why? Isn’t a neon coloured sea slug who can survive through photosynthesis just as interesting?

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There Are Some Exceptions

When it comes to seahorses there is always excitement. Everyone knows what a seahorse is and everyone wants to see one. Divers love them and they will oftentimes take the lead in after-dive conversations. So what makes them different from the other little guys? Is it because they seem so mythical? Or are they just well known?

Some Say The Little Things are Boring

I’ve met plenty of dive professionals who find even seahorses boring. Originally, I would just look at them like they were crazy. However, I have come to understand why they believe this, though I don’t think I will ever agree. When you see a large animal it’s almost always doing something, even if it’s just swimming. While, in contrast, the little things seem to be just sitting there, not moving or really doing anything perceivable. 

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Perceivable being the keyword. Frogfish and even barnacles are always doing something, though you don’t always see it. It takes good buoyancy and patience to be able to observe the miniature world. A set of good eyes or a magnifying glass doesn’t hurt either. If you watch closely you can see the tentacle-like arm of a barnacle shooting out and capturing food before pulling it back into its mouth. You just need to take the time to look.

Small Creatures are Exciting

The first part of the excitement is actually finding and seeing these little animals. It is easy to spot an animal that is the same size as you but its another story entirely to find a sea slug that’s less than 1cm in length. After the initial sense of accomplishment, there is admiration and curiosity. Admiration for an organism so small to live in an ocean so big, and fascination for how strange and unique these creatures are.

In my experience, it is the little things that are the most colourful, and the most complex. Each of them has a unique strategy to survive, whether it be camouflage, venom, or mimicry. Oftentimes they also hunt differently than large marine organism as well. For example, the frogfish uses a lure to entice its prey.

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The Next Time You Dive

I implore you, that on your next dive or snorkel trip, that you try to enjoy the little things. Though they may not be as apparently interesting as finding a large animal, they are just as mesmerizing. Who knows, you may look into a crevice and find two crabs having a boxing match, or you may look into a coral and find a seahorse blending almost seamlessly into the branches. I implore you to find out more. The next time you find a new creature, or even familiar one, find out what it is. Read about that animal, how it lives and survives, and it will amaze you all the more.

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frogfish

Frogfish, the fish with superpowers

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Ranelle Ivens

SITE AUTHOR

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Ranelle’s addiction to SCUBA started in 2004. From a young age she has been fascinated by the ocean and the creatures living within it. Her Ultimate dive dream is to swim with Orcas and to dive the world. Ranelle is a certified PADI Specialty Instructor and spent 3 years in university studying Science and Biology.

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Frogfish, or as I like to call them, the pug of the ocean, is a species of fish that is unique and interesting. These adorably ugly fish are a favourite among many divers as they can be very rare and difficult to spot. Being a type of anglerfish they are fascinating to watch, and sometimes exhibit odd and endearing behaviours.

What is Heck is a frogfish?

Most people have no idea what a frogfish is, simply because they are hard to find, and so they’ve never heard of them. As I mentioned earlier its an anglerfish, meaning it uses a lure to catch its prey. This means that they don’t move much. Instead, they prefer to camouflage themselves and lie in wait like little ninjas. Frogfish have a toad-like appearance and open and extend their mouths like a frog, hence the name.

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Where do they live?

There are around 47 known species of frogfish and they can be found all over the world. Including salt, brackish, and freshwater environments. Meaning they are quite adaptable! However, they are not found in the Arctic nor the Mediterranean sea. Generally, these little dudes like an average water that’s 20 C (68 F) or warmer. I don’t blame them either, who likes living in the cold? As a result of their temperature preferences, frogfish don’t live very deep but have been found in up to 100M (330 ft) of water. In my experience, they are 4-10M (10-30 ft) deep.

You could also attribute their prefered depth and temperatures to their living environment. Camouflage is very important for this animal, and because of that, they live on the ocean floor. Usually, on reefs or near corals as this gives them lots of places to hide in plain sight, though some do hunt in the sand

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The Hunter and the Hunted

Being an anglerfish, you must wonder what this fish fishes for. The answer actually depends on the species of frogfish. Different kinds of frogfish have different lures, each specializing in attracting different kinds of food. The lure is actually called an esca. Some mimic shrimp, small fish, tubeworms, or bristle worms. What is even more interesting, is that the esca can be regenerated, just in case dinner gets a little bitey. Though, it would be pretty hard for the frogfish’s prey to eat the esca, as the frogfish will catch and swallow its prey in about 6 milliseconds. So fast that other animals can’t even see it happen.

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In those 6 milliseconds, the frogfish will open its mouth, sucking water and it’s prey inside. It will then swallow its dinner expelling the water from its gills. In addition to this, the frogfish has a special muscle that will trap the prey inside so it can’t escape. Believe it or not, a frogfish can eat prey that’s up to twice its size! Not only can it expand its mouth, but its stomach as well. Watch the video above to see what I mean.

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Ninja Skills

Apart from being able to move lightning fast and gobble up prey twice its size, the frogfish can blend into the reef and even mimic other animals. Like ninjas, frogfish don’t have much in the way of armour. They have no scales but instead a soft squishy skin that can change colour. (Did you know Seahorses also change colour?!?) In addition to this, their skin has a unique texture to it. The texture will depend on the species but will allow them to mimic sponges of corals. Alternatively, some frogfish grow algae on their bodies to help them blend in.

In comparison to adult frogfish, the babies camouflage a little differently. Instead of trying to mimic their surroundings they will impersonate other animals. Usually, they will disguise themselves as a venomous nudibranch (sea slug) to deter predators. By now you must be wondering what it is they are trying to hide from. The reason behind all the cloak and shadow is due to their primary predators; damselfish, wrasses and clownfish. As you may know, especially in the case of damselfish and wrasses there are MANY of them in the marine environment making hiding difficult. Luckily Frogfish are mini ninjas

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Frogfish have a Superpower

Who knew these ugly little fish were so damn cool right? So what is their superpower? I like to call it JET BURST! What it is, is a unique propulsion method. The frogfish will suck water into their mouths and push it out of gills located behind their pectoral fins. The force of the expelling water shoots them forward like a jet. This technique gives them a burst of speed allowing them to quickly escape predators. And, if you pair Jet Burst, along with the fact that their mouths can expand up to 12x their normal size, these lazy fish can actually move pretty fast.  

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bad fin riding

A Lesson in Fin Riding Marine Giants

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Have you ever imagined what it would be like to ride a wild animal? Some people dream of riding tigers, or whales, or rhinos. But that’s how they should stay; just dreams. It is one thing to ride a trained animal such as an elephant, however it is another thing entirely to ride on a wild animal, especially fin riding an endangered species.

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Why Fin riding is a bad idea

In the dive industry fin riding is highly frowned upon. If you don’t  know what I mean by ‘fin riding’ it consists of taking hold of the animals fin or grabbing onto it in some way and letting it take you for a ride. The problem with this is that it will stress the animal out and is very dangerous, not only for the animal but for the people involved. In addition to this most large marine animals including the Whale shark, Gigantic Manta ray and many species of whale are endangered. Harming endangered animals is illegal and punishable by law! So don’t touch please.

You may be wondering about the dolphin shows in professional aquariums, the trainers there are often seen riding the animals during performances. These animals are trained for this yes, but it’s still not right. These animals are subjected to horrible conditions. The size of the ocean could never compare to the size of a tank and the training is often very cruel.

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No one wants that kinda stress

Imagine that your walking along, minding your own business, and someone literally just jumps up onto your back. You would almost certainly be thinking something along the lines of ‘what the phoque,’ and you would almost definitely be trying to get them off of you. I know that I would be freaking out a bit. I wouldn’t be sure if this person was trying to hurt me, rob me, or was just messing around. I’d be confused and stressing; animals are no different. An animal is not going to understand that you are just messing around and it’s going to be scared and upset and feel stress. It is not fair to any animal to subject them to this, especially when we are visiting them in their own environment.

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Your Next Move

So here we are, we’ve got a random person hanging on you what are you going to do now? Obviously, try and get rid of them. How do you do that? Well you can wiggle and shake, or you could try reaching back and grabbing or hitting them. Or maybe, you fall backwards on top of them. Wild animals have these same options, and trust me, they are much more inclined and able to hurt you than another human being. A whale, for example, can weigh 1000’s of tons. Imagine getting fin or tail slapped by that much force? Animal riding is dangerous! You do not know how they are going to react, and that animal has every right to attack and protect itself from anyone who would try something as stupid as fin riding.

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It is important to note, that especially in the case of the giant Manta ray (pictured above) fin riding is detrimental to the animal. Mantas skin have a mucosy coating that helps them swim and protects them from bacteria. This coating is removed and damaged on contact and puts the animal at risk of infection. Due to this fact, you should never touch a Manta unless absolutely necessary.

It’s all fun Until…

Let’s go back to where we were standing there minding our own business. So here we are and some dumb bloke decides to jump on you, but what he doesn’t know is that you’ve got a bad leg from a boat accident a few years back. Instead of a funny joke you are on the floor in pain, possibly with severe injury. Many animals get injured in the wild from propellers, other animals, fishermen, ecetera. We don’t know if grabbing on to this animal is going to hurt them. They may have weak cartilage or simply their biological anatomy is not made to drag around a 200 pound diver by the fin. Even if you mean well, Fin riding can seriously injure the animal, and I don’t believe that is anyone’s intention.

Here are a couple more reasons fin riding is dangerous:

  1. The animal may suddenly dive and take you deep. This can damage your ears and/or you may drown.
  2. They may try to jump/breach out of the water, taking you with them before they land on top of you.
  3. You risk getting bitten if riding an animal such as toothed sharks.
  4. If the animal spooks it may swim very rapidly trying to escape, taking you far from where you were. This could result in you becoming lost at sea.

There are So Many Videos and Pictures

Sadly, yeah. There are tons of people doing this and they are ignorant. Maybe they are good people who don’t know any better, or maybe they are pompous jerks who don’t give two sits about anyone but themselves. Either way, fin riding is wrong. In most cases, people are told not to touch or harass the aquatic life in the dive briefings by their professionals, however not everyone listens. Yes, fin riding seems fun and all but it isn’t worth the risk to you or the animal.

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Please be Responsible

If you are out there and you are diving, or swimming, or snorkeling or whatever! Please be respectful of the animals around you. No one wants to hurt these beautiful creatures nor does anyone want to see you get hurt by them. Below are a few simple tips that will allow you to safely enjoy the presence of these animals.

  • Stay calm: of course you are going to be excited, I am too swimming next to a graceful giant, but  if you splash and make a lot of noise it is going to get scared and swim away. Instead take your time relax breath and slowly get closer.
  • If on a boat, don’t use a typical entry; it tends to scare them off. Instead quietly glide or slip into the water.
  • Keep a Safe Distance: Animals like whale sharks, Mantas, and whales are huge animals. Make sure that you always stay far enough away that you won’t get hit by a fin or tail, even by accident. If the animal has a baby stay even further away. Mothers are protective of young and may become aggressive.
  • If you are diving, make sure to maintain good buoyancy control! Often, larger creatures are near the surface where it is most difficult to control your buoyancy.
  • Don’ t Chase: As much as we all wish we could stay with these big beauties for the rest of our lives (or at least I would) don’t chase them if they are trying to get away. Chasing them will only make them hurry away faster and trust me… You aren’t going to catch them.

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The ocean is my biggest passion. As a SCUBA instructor I have a unique opportunity to show people exactly how precious the ocean is.  I aim to inspire others to love and respect the sea through education and diving.

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Let Others Know

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seahorses are cute

What you don’t know about Seahorses

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Ranelle Ivens

SITE AUTHOR

Ranelle’s addiction to SCUBA started in 2004. From a young age she has been fascinated by the ocean and the creatures living within it. Her Ultimate dive dream is to swim with Orcas and to dive the world. Ranelle is a certified PADI Specialty Instructor and spent 3 years in university studying Science and Biology. [supsystic-social-sharing id=’2′] [/et_pb_text][/et_pb_column][et_pb_column type=”2_3″][et_pb_text admin_label=”Text (main post content)” module_class=”dd-post-content” _builder_version=”3.0.92″ text_font=”Lato||||” text_font_size=”15″ text_text_color=”#04493e” text_line_height=”1.4em” custom_padding=”60px|||”]

Did you know that seahorses have a crazy mad but beautiful mating ritual? What about that when giving birth seahorses defy all gender norms? The seahorse is also a super deadly animal believe it or not, but also very fragile! This animal is one of the most fascinating creatures I have come across. It’s so strange and weird and beautiful that I find them absolutely captivating. Which is exactly why I want to share all this cool information  with you.

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First the Basics

The first thing you need to know about seahorses is that they are a fish. Yes, I know, they are weird shaped and don’t look at all like a normal fish but those crazy scientists classified them as fish so here we are. Next, is how they fit into the food chain. Shrimp, plankton and itty bitty fishies are the seahorse’s snack of choice.  They also eat tiny crustaceans which is only fair as crustaceans are also their only true predator. Crabs are about the sole animals that go out and hunt for seahorses to eat. However, the seahorse does  have other predators such as rays, tuna, and seabirds. Each of these tend to eat them more by accident or mistake though, they haven’t been recorded to actively hunt for seahorses.

The habitat of the seahorse may be one reason they don’t have many predators. Seahorses live on corals and in sea grasses. This is because they can easily  grab onto grasses and coral structures. In case you didn’t  know, seahorses are awful swimmers. that’s why they need to stay in one spot or small area. Seahorses have also developed wicked camouflage that allows them to blend into their surroundings. Their camo skills are so good that some seahorses can even change colors to blend into different colored reefs.

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That Crazy Mad but Beautiful Mating Ritual

Ever dream about old fashion love? Courtship, romantic dancing, good morning snuggles or a true love that lasts forever? Well, seahorses don’t just dream it, they live it. It begins once two seahorses find each other and decide to give it a try. They first go on a few dates. These dates usually happen in the morning when the two meet up and dance. Wait, wait, wait, dance? Yep, dancing. Seahorses have what’s called a prehensile tail (like monkeys), which they use to hold on to each other. Then they swim about in fancy circles and patterns  and even change colours. The seahorses will meet every morning for several days before they will ‘do the deed.’

Once they’ve conceived, the seahorses continue to meet every morning where they wrap around each other for hugs and snuggles. Starting to wish your significant other was just like a seahorse? Well, maybe don’t wish too hard. Many people believe that seahorses mate for life. This can be true but it is more correct to say that they breed with a singular partner for one breeding season. Sorry to burst you bubble, I really hoped it was love for life too. On the bright side, seahorses are totally monogamous during the breeding season which means they are faithful and don’t cheat on each other!

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Soooo Many Babies!

I don’t know about you but when I think of having more than two kids I feel a little stressed! Try having up to a 1000 or more babies… in one delivery! As a female That just sounds too painful, but its not the female you should feel sorry for, it’s the male. Confused? That’s okay not everyone knows that it is the male seahorse that gets pregnant and gives live birth. Talk about dad and husband of the year! Not only do seahorses have tons of babies in one pregnancy they have lots of pregnancies too! Sometimes the male will give birth in the morning and then be pregnant again by that evening! Some of those guys have it easier than others though. Depending on the species pregnancies can last anywhere from 9-45 days.

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One of the deadliest animals in the sea, nay, the world

The seahorse!? What about lions and tigers and bears (Oh My!)? Well sure these guys are pretty scary but that doesn’t mean they are the deadliest! These large animals don’t catch too many of the animals they hunt, most, less than 50%. Meanwhile, the seahorse traps and kills over 90% of it’s prey. What’s even more amazing is that the they catch their prey without teeth! Seahorses don’t even have teeth. Instead, the seahorse uses its long snout like a straw and sucks up tiny plankton and other yummy treats.

Want to know what’s even more crazy about seahorses? They eat almost all day, and they don’t even get fat. sometimes I wish I could eat all day and not get fat. Then I remember that the seahorse needs to eat all day to stay alive. This is because they have no stomach. Not having a stomach means that seahorses are never full, and due to heir super fast metabolism they need to keep eating continuously!

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Sooo Weird, but Sooo Cool

Yes, after reading all these awesome facts you probably think that these animals are super weird. But, that is exactly why I love them, that and they are super cute! You might even want to see one in real life! If that’s the  case I swish you luck, they can be really tricky to find, especially because they are endangered. This has a lot to do with humans. Many people like to buy dead seahorses as decorations… The people that sell them will often take them from the wild. That’s right! That now means there is a sad seahorse mate out there missing it’s lover… So don’t be that guy!

Another reason seahorses are endangered is the same problem most animals on the planet face. Habitat reduction. Seahorses live on corals and sea grasses both of with are typically found in shallower water near the mainland and islands. However, where there is land there is human activity and pollution. Garbage and toxins leak into the sea everyday by the tons… this makes seahorses vulnerable as it kills the corals and other vital parts of the ecosystem.

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How to Help Seahorses

  • Reduce pollution! Use earth friendly products, car pool, walk, cut out single use plastics!
  • If you are a diver practice good buoyancy,especially around corals!
  • Help research with the research by reporting seahorse sightings to Project Seahorse (they even have a handy app to make life easier)
  • Stop using sunscreens that contain OXYBENZONE! This chemical kills corals and causes cancer in humans. Plus there are way better alternatives.

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stingray

Talking to Stingrays

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Ranelle Ivens

SITE AUTHOR

Ranelle’s addiction to SCUBA started in 2004. From a young age she has been fascinated by the ocean and the creatures living within it. Her Ultimate dive dream is to swim with Orcas and to dive the world. Ranelle is a certified PADI Specialty Instructor and spent 3 years in university studying Science and Biology. [supsystic-social-sharing id=’2′] [/et_pb_text][/et_pb_column][et_pb_column type=”2_3″][et_pb_text admin_label=”Text (main post content)” module_class=”dd-post-content” _builder_version=”3.0.92″ text_font=”Lato||||” text_font_size=”15″ text_text_color=”#04493e” text_line_height=”1.4em” background_layout=”light”]

Typically when I initially tell people that i can communicate with Stingrays, they give me the ‘yep, this one’s a nutter’ look. However, after listening a little longer people usually start to come around.

If like me, you love animals, you know that they can think and feel and have moods and personalities just as we do. You understand that to understand them you need to listen to them. Not just the yips and yelps but their body language. Once you start to understand the looks they give, the tail position, and posture you can start to decipher what they are saying to you.

With stingrays it’s exactly this. It’s only a little trickier because they can’t make noises at you, nor you to them, at least not ones they would likely understand. But, lets not get to ahead of ourselves, first lets talk about their typical personalities.

Stingrays tend to have a certain demeanour

They are very relaxed animal. Most of the time you will see them lounging in the sand, or lazily gliding about. They have this energy that exhumes a calm and cool collectedness. Just being around them I start to feel myself loosen up and relax a little more. In fact, the only time I’ve seen them move quickly seems to be to escape the proximity of an excited diver.

This ‘chillness’, in my experience, is especially typical of southern stingrays, round rays, butterfly rays, and long tail stingrays. Other species such as the electric bullseye ray, guitar rays, and spotted eagle rays, tend to be more active as well as shy.

If they are so chill, why do they always swim away?!

Much like sharks and other underwater animals you’ve encountered they like their space. In addition to this they are weary of humans. Imagine if some weird and scaley sea creature walked up out of the sea with a bucket of water over its head. We humans are ditzy enough to stand there and gape at it with cameras rolling, but the more natural reaction is fear.

In addition to us being weird looking aliens carrying tanks and making bubbles, stingrays have highly attuned senses. Much like sharks, stingrays have electroperception, meaning they can sense electromagnetic frequencies in the water. Or, in other words, your heartbeat.

It’s this frequency that usually scares them off

In the world of a stingray, where everything is calm and serene most of the time, hearing the excited rapid percussion beat of an excited diver’s heart is very startling. In their experience, the only time that it hears elevated heart rates is when a predetor is anticipating a fun chase, or someones prey is frantically trying to escape another’s jaws.

Hence, when a diver encounters a ray and becomes excited, their heart rate goes up. This simulates the predetor and prey relationship. When that large strange looking animal then starts barelling towards the ray it is no wonder the stingrays swim off in fright.

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So then What’s the trick?

If you want to talk to a stingray, typically you need to get close to it first. Which means that your heart can’t be pounding out of your chest with anticipation. This is not to say you can’t get excited, its pretty hard not to be excited when you see such a beautiful animal in the wild. However what it does mean is that you need to stop and calm down.

While guiding dives I see people time, and time again chasing after animals and then being disappointed when they swim away. The Trick to getting closer is to stop, breathe, calm down, and the proceed very slowly.

Once you master this you will find yourself able to get much closer to many other types of animals as well.

How Close is close?

After you start employing these methods you might notice that you can get pretty close, but they still swim away. If you can grasp the ‘talking part’ you will be able to get close enough to put your nose on their fin tips.

Story Time!

The closest encounter I’ve ever had was in Drake Bay Costa Rica. I was diving with Pirate Cove and I had sideled up to a cute couple of stingrays. They, as usual, were quite gorgeous, and they didn’t even seem to mind my company. I then looked over my shoulder to see a third ray gliding on over. I looked at the ray and I thought ‘come on over I would love to hang out with you too!’ 

To my delight the ray came closer, and closer, and closer  until it was nearly right on top of me. I watched in a slight panic as he began to position himself to settle right on top of me. As lovely as this may have been I didn’t want to startle the poor thing when I decided to leave before him.

So quick as I could I told him ‘please don’t land on top of me!’ immediately after I sent him this thought, the ray jerked hard startling the other two rays next to me, both of which quickly swam off. the incoming ray then settled in right beside me.

Despite my experience with getting close to rays I was still floored

This ray just sat on the bottom and hung out with me, the moment was awesomely magical. I could feel this happy tingling feeling in my heart, and from the ray the sense of peace and calming that just washes over you. I wanted for than anything to just curl up and nap there with him,but alas there were other dives itching to see the rest of the site.  So instead, I blew him a kiss and thanked him for a lovely visit.

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Finally; the talking part

If you read the whole article you for sure know the rays can sense electromagnetic frequencies. You also know that your heart emits one of these frequencies. What you may not know, is that your brain also emits an electromagnetic frequency, one that changes with your thoughts and feelings.

Now if we take this two facts and combine them you can probably start to see the picture. If you begin to think what you want to say, and feel the emotions you want to portray deep in your heart, you can communicate with the rays.

My Experimental Proof

During my diving I have practiced time and time again these methods. Typically, once I get within a few feet of the ray, they instinctually want to retreat. This can be observed by watching their fin tips. Usually the ray will raise them in preparation to jolt away.  At this point I stop and think about feelings of calm and peace, think of observing the ray, and just how amazingly lovely I believe them to be. I look into the rays eyes and do my best to communicate this. At this point the ray usually relaxs back down, setteling into the sand. It then almost always allows me to proceed even closer, and very rarely swims away after this point.

A Word of Caution

Even though stingrays are quite harmless, they are still equiped with a poisonous barb and a long whiplike tail. Like any animal they should be respected and you should remain cautious when approaching them. Try not to approach them from the front and come down on top of them. This makes them feel trapped and can be dangerous if the ray is in a bad mood.

Finally, try not to touch them. Some rays, including manta rays, have a protective coating over their bodies, and touching them rubs this away and can actually harm them. Others can emit an eletric shock.

Also, in someone who firmly believes that clothing is not consent, I cannot support anyone touching a stingray without their verbal consent. So please, don’t harrass the rays!

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