Stingray City

We got up close and personal with a storm of stingrays while in Moorea. We hopped in the dinghy bright and early Thursday morning, traveling two miles from our anchorage in Opunohu Bay to pick up two new friends, Trevor and Gabby, whom we met hiking the day before and were staying at the Intercontinental Hotel. Stingray City was another half mile down the pass, and when we arrived there were already two groups of guided tours there enjoying the fun.

The rays, sharks, and fish in this area aren’t entirely domesticated, but they’re used to being fed and don’t pass up a catered meal when tourists come to visit. There were ten stingrays cruising around, brushing up against our legs and arms, trying to climb up our chests, and helping Dominic take some underwater photos. The rays felt like velvet and seemed to revel in the attention. They were smarter than I had given them credit for; they knew the guides apart from the tourists, crowding and climbing on them whether or not they were holding food. The fish didn’t dart away, and the sharks swam between people and around the group waiting for left overs. It was very safe, though Dominic did get a little nibble to the finger when a ray mistook his GoPro for a snack.

We both felt minor ethical qualms about the interaction: we fancy the ideal adventurer as someone who watches nature without affecting it, and I’m sure we all learned the dangers of feeding wild animals as children—the animals can become dependent, unable to fend for themselves. But these stingrays weren’t captive, coming and going as they pleased; and some did leave, appearing bored after about half an hour. These were also some of the larger, more robust rays and sharks we’ve seen. The stingrays in Cook’s Bay and in Tahanea were small and scarred, seeming like they’d seen the rougher side of life; these rays looked like they enjoyed a pampered life in the suburbs.

After snorkeling, Trevor and Gabby invited us to spend the afternoon lounging poolside with them, and we gladly accepted the invitation, enjoying some pampering ourselves. Unaccustomed to chlorinated fresh water, we kept seeing the shadows of children swimming and thinking there were sharks in the pool. We also managed to avoid the dangerous menu: a draft pint was $20, and burgers were $30. Yikes!