Sony F-717 digital
48.5mm at f3.5
1/125 at ISO 100

Reluctant swimming partner

The Indian River Lagoon plays home to an impressive number of these shy and curious creatures, Atlantic Stingrays (Dasyatis sabina). I've seen them in a variety of sizes, and sometimes quite close. During the summer of 2003 when I was snorkeling as often as possible, it was almost an incomplete trip if I didn't spot one of these within a couple of meters.

My first encounter was startling and totally unexpected — it was a small one, and I mistook it for a Horseshoe Crab until it darted away at a speed far too great for a crab. That, and the fact that crab shells don't ripple along the edges as they move.

I studied up on them to see just how dangerous they really were, which is not terribly dangerous. The sting is painful but not debilitating, and they're shy enough that an encounter which would produce a sting is rare. In fact, once I realized how many of them there were, approaching close enough for a good picture was proving difficult. And they really disliked anything in the water near them, as I found out when I attempted to follow one when snorkeling. It beat a hasty retreat, despite my cautious movements.

At right, my closest encounter, unfortunately taken in poor conditions with a disposable camera. With very slow movements so it would not pick up the pressure waves from the water, I managed to place my foot on a rock alongside one that had come to rest in the shallows where I was wading. My foot, in a sandal, can be seen next to a specimen the size of a dinner plate, in about 30 cm (12") of water.