Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Freaken' Crazy

Yesterday I was waiting for a group to catch up to me while we were snorkeling. I wanted to show them the imprints that were left all over the sandy bottom by southern stingrays. They didn't seem to hear me calling, so I dove down to look at one myself. I realized that I had some time to blow before the group got to me, so I decided to dolphin kick out across the sandy bottom away from the coral heads that we were exploring. I was probably about 15 feet under and after about 20 yards I decided to veer left slightly. As I slowly made a turn and looked to my left I found myself merging straight into a spotted eagle ray. Our three heads nearly collided (it had a shark sucker right next to its head). For some reason it didn't spook, so I slipped right above it. Then we swam together across the sand. The eagle ray flew about a foot below me with a 5 foot wingspan. I was running out of breath, so I slowly drifted up toward the surface and continued to swim with it several feet below me. I couldn't keep up with the ray and it pulled slightly ahead of me. As it pulled forward, my head was even with the base of its tail. I then realized that its tail was at least as long as me, if not several feet longer. I knew that I coudn't keep up with it, so I slowly watched it swim away into the blue, mesmerized by the white puzzle-pattern of circles connected by white lines across its black wings.
This private encounter was perhaps the most amazing animal encounter that I have ever had. There were no sounds. Just the two of us, plus the hitchhiker, making our way across the sand. Neither of us seemed to be paying close attention to where we were going. And, for some reason, it wasn't bothered by my presence. I'm glad that I didn't take my camera that day. If I had, I would have not chosen to randomly kick across the bottom for fun. And there's no way that I could have captured that moment with a camera. I would have spent my time looking at my camera and missed the whole experience. The whole thing was simply crazy.
(Note: this experience does relate to the case study that you are working on)


Eric Heupel said...

I enjoyed snorkeling with eagle rays in South Water Caye when I was down there for a week with a class. A similar experience, two of us spotted it cruising the sands between coral spits. Unfortuately it was much deeper (~40'depth to our 20' depth) so we didn't get quite the closeup you did. But it was magic. Might not be related to your study (neither was ours) but as a single event memory it will stick perhaps better.

Nikki said...

I took a snorkeling trip on Caye Caulker after leaving Blackbird. The snorkeling guide swam belly up beneath a Southern stingray, grabbed both of his wings in his hands and danced with the ray for a good 40 feet. The ray seemed to enjoy it and seemed to want to engage me in the activity. The ray followed me around for a good minute, and I kept trying to swim away because I know I am not calm enough to dance with a ray.
Your pictures are absolutely stunning Jerred!