This post was actually written five years ago. While doing some housekeeping on my blog I stumbled across it, realizing I never posted it. It has languished all these years in the edit box.
It was written upon the occasion of the strange death of "Crocodile Hunter" Steve Irwin in 2006.
This may not be good P.R. for the Stingray Benevolent Society, yet marine experts have been quick to remind us that stingray attacks are rare, and that usually these stings are not lethal. (Just very, very painful.) Irwin's death was as likely as a lightning strike. The barb found its way between his ribs and pierced his heart.
On the other hand, stingray tours are continuing as scheduled and the operators continue to feed the creatures by hand. As one of them says, "They come in and play with us because we're offering them free food. ... They consider people to be another set of legs with a possible squid at the end, and they're very happy to see us." I feel reassured that manta rays will still be accessible at Sea World.
You see, I have a very fond memory involving a manta ray and my mother.
Manta rays are filter feeders and they have no stingers. At the age of nine or so, my parents accompanied me on a trip to SeaWorld in Orlando. We had just arrived for our day-long family expedition, and my father and grandparents left my mother and me to find a bathroom and find some confusing maps.
My mother and I found ourselves near a large white basin that came up about waist-level. Looking inside, we were treated to the sight of a large manta ray. We both exclaimed over how beautiful it was, and laughed at the way it swam right over to us. The little attention whore!
Our family raised Russian wolfhounds for many years and my mother is very comfortable around animals. She is no Steve Irwin, yet she has a quiet, brave affinity for creatures great and small. Something about the manta ray was communicating to her. What my mother said was, "He's acting an awful lot like a puppy."
Indeed, the manta ray was swimming back and forth, pulling back, and doing a roll in the water, then lapping right up at the edge nearest us and breaking the surface of the water.
My mother pursed her lips and looked around the park to see if anyone wearing a badge was around. "You know what, I wonder..." She put her hand in the water, and the manta ray approached. "Do you think they like to be pet?" She pulled her hand out. She knew that manta rays don't really have teeth to speak of, and can't sting. In any case, this one's behavior was not threatening in any way. What could it do? Shove you? My mother looked around again, shrugged, and stuck her hand back in.
Within seconds, she was scratching the belly of a very happy manta ray. It had no face, but it roiled about her hand and shivered. My mother laughed with delight. "It IS a puppy!"
We enjoyed this for a few more minutes before the rest of the family returned and my father saw his wife with her hand in a tank at SeaWorld.
Naturally, he asked her what she was doing.
My mother withdrew her hand and very innocently replied, "Nothing."