I Spy.. An Atlantic Stingray

I see you.

The Indian River Lagoon is a common spot to observe Atlantic and Southern stingrays in their natural habitat.  The cartilaginous fish like to rest and hunt in the shallow waters.

When I was teaching field trips we brought up the need to do the “stingray shuffle” anytime our feet were wet to protect ourselves from harm.  As most people know, nearly all species pack a barb at the base of the tail that is coated in bacteria that produce endotoxins.  If you’re unlucky enough to get barbed the bacteria are introduced to your system and cause intense pain.  Applying heat can take the edge off but the only real cure is time. 

Of course.. I like to emphasize that we have defensive stingrays in the Lagoon, not offensive ones.  They don’t go out of their way to attack people. 

I used logic like this on countless students who were hesitant to get in the water over the last two seasons.  I never pushed them but I always encouraged them to at least get their feet wet.  And usually, if I was successful in getting them in that far, they were joining their classmates at the seine nets in just a few more moments. 

It was amusing to teach fourth-graders to “stingray shuffle” but absolutely hilarious to hear the phrase uttered by grown adults and college aged students.  And it is really interesting to watch paranoia fade between both age groups as they become comfortable in the water over time.  Fear fades away to appreciation and wonder if you feel safe, if you understand.

Every great once in awhile, I find that this fear and understanding relationship is turned backwards.  When our seines revealed tassled scorpionfish and oyster toadfish, I was prone to paranoia myself.  And the knowledge that the Lagoon is a nursery ground for bull sharks certainly entered my mind on the days I waded far out from the safety of the shoreline. 

Still.. I’m happy to live with a little irrational fear haunting the edges of my mind.  I think all field biologists are thrill seekers.. aspiring sky divers who don’t trust airplanes.