Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Sting City

Ever wonder what it would feel like to hold a five-foot animate chicken cutlet? Curious about what an animal with a kisser like vacuum might look like? Want a little magic in your life? Fear no danger? Like getting mobbed by moving pancakes underwater? Appreciate flatness? Then I highly recommend you find a boat and make a sojourn to Stingray City, where the sea puppies live, and all your weirdo dreams can come true. I know mine did.

Southern stingrays (Dasyatis americana) can be found elegantly gliding around the ocean floor in tropical and subtropical waters from Jersey to Brazil. Their pectorals fins stretch out like stealth wings, trailing long, barbed tails behind. Diamond-shaped, their dorsal side is olive-hued and rough like a fleshy sandpaper, while their underbellies are a smooth, soft white. Their namesake stinger barb is tucked in about half way down their slim tails, and while its venom is not fatal to humans, a poke would sting like all hell. (Incidentally, Steven Irwin's fatal heart-sting freak accident was not at the fins of a southern ray.) 


This genial lot of wild rays hangs out at a large, naturally-occurring sandbar within a huge salt-water lagoon on the island's northwestern end, walled in by the barrier reef that rings the whole island. Apparently these usually solitary creatures cued in to a free meal years ago when they realized fisherfolk came to these shallow waters to clean their fish and toss the delicious guts overboard. And before you knew it hungry rays were coming out to the sound of boat engines like a flock of pancakes looking of syrup. Shortly there after, industrious humans realized they could make a buck by bringing animal-crazed tourists out to feed (mmm, calamari), pet, and generally love up on the now quite tame rays, and in the process make my decade.


Some of the rays have been coming around for years, like Rebecca, the biggest, oldest female, and Stumpy, who lost her tail, and Scarface of the distinct features... And when these gentle creatures whimple by, grazing your knee-backs and ruffling over your shoulders to hoover at the fish in your hand, you will not be able to cease laughing like a happy maniac, and you will fervently wish you were a mermaid just so you could keep one as a friend.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Terrapin Station

Well, technically you wouldn't call a sea turtle a terrapin, but tell that to Jerry. One of the best things we did on Grand Cayman was visit The Cayman Turtle Farm, a premiere breeding center for endangered green sea turtles. Chelonia mydas are dubbed green not for their outer color, but rather because the fat layer beneath their shell is green. For my part, let the record state I am uncertain if that means sort of a dull mossy green, or a bright, ectoplasm-type hue. Their range circles the globe in tropical and sub-tropical waters.

The breeding center is home to a number large, 500+ pound adult turtles who share a large saltwater lagoon equipped with a lounge studded with lava lamps, beaded curtains, soft lighting, and Barry White background music. No, that is a lie... but they are packed into a lagoon to facilitate orgies, I mean mating, but the lounge area is mostly just a sandy beach perfect for egg-laying. Mamas can lay 100-200 eggs in a go, and in the wild some may migrate as far as 1,6000 miles to reach their breeding grounds.

After incubating for a couple of months, tiny, adorable, bite-sized little baby turtles hatch in their sand pits and crawl their way to the sea. They are, as you may expect, extremely vulnerable to predators during the first several months of their lives, and get no help from mama, because she hit the road as soon as she buried her clutch. It is sad, but no surprise then, that only about one percent of the little turtlets make it to adulthood. This fact, combined with shoreline development (habitat loss), fishing net interference, predation (human and non-human), and the ill-effects of chemical pollution has served in securing the green sea turtle a spot on the Endangered Species list. In 2007 the green was also granted international protection under CITES.

Since its inception in 1968, the Cayman Turtle Farm has bred and released over 31,000 yearling turtles into the wild, and is the first facility to successfully release second generation greens (those bred, laid, hatched, and reared in captivity). Last year the center released the first of its satellite-tagged turtles, and now monitors individual movements via space technology and wizardry.


It is an incredible feeling to take a yearling in hand. Their shell pattern is delicate and unbelievable bright and crisp, a sunburst or seed husk painted on with a thin brush. Their front flippers are surprisingly strong, and tug at fingers hooked in armpits. You can soothe them with a gentle stroke of the chin. Mostly they casually drift around through the water, but are capable of zooming off at 30mph when they want a change of scenery. 

They are impossible not to root for.

Monday, February 11, 2013

He Hath Founded It Upon The Seas

Yesterday I returned from a lovely week of sand, sea, family, and rum on Grand Cayman. Returned to the snow, naturally, with the ocean still in salting my hair. This here is the first installment of usual suspects encountered. All were quite congenial. Except for the cockroaches, who shall remain nameless.

A wee crablet
Demonstrating the power of suction, and creepin'

Went a courtin'

Dove Rae Me

Nice beret, Luc

Still life with Chuckles

The long shanks

And now she's blushing

Just another goth kid

Forget something, blue-throated anole?