Bora Bora is famous for being a paradise on earth, but much of its beauty is underwater. Hotel tours offer the chance to swim with friendly Stingrays.
Despite having a fearsome reputation due to their prehistoric looks and the untimely demise of Crocodile Hunter, Steve Irwin, Stingrays are docile creatures. They move gracefully, and are more than happy to brush against human legs if there is food involved. In that respect, they’re very much like cats, but without the malevolent streak.
French Polynesia, colloquially known as Tahiti (the largest island and home to the capital city, Papeete) has a thriving population of rays. There are the small Tiger and Bat rays that can be seen flitting through the supports of overwater bungalows, all the way up to the huge Mantra rays. These behemoths stick to deep water, but it is possible for experienced divers to join them on their oceanic journey.
Bora Bora Stingray Feeding Tours
For those people who struggle in their local pool, however, there are two kinds of tours offering the opportunity to interact with Stingrays without getting out of their depth. The first, usually combined with shark feeding, involves taking a boat out into the chest-deep water of a lagoon, and snorkeling as the rays glide below. The second option, which is the most fun, is to be transported to a small island, or motu, where the creatures come right up to the beach.
Participants enjoy a pleasant boat ride across the lagoon’s stunning blue water to an uninhabited motu, chosen for its idyllic beach and clear, shallow waters. Nearing the destination, the boat’s speed is reduced to a crawl and it isn’t long before unmistakable shapes are following in its wake. Tours operate daily, and engine vibrations are like a dinner bell to the local Stingrays. The larger ones are a meter across, with the trademark tail stretching back even further.
On seeing them for the first time, it’s easy to see how such a fearsome reputation was formed. The stingers are a couple of inches long and located a third of the way down the tail, not at the end as is the common belief. They are only used for defense, and even then it is extremely rare. The fact that several of the motu’s Stingrays are missing varying lengths of their tails, the result of careless tourist foot placement, suggests that they have more to fear from humans than the other way around.
Swimming With the Stingrays
After watching the Stingrays circle the boat for a while, the tour guide leads everyone the short distance to the beach. Other than the occasional squeal of surprise as a leg is brushed, the only sounds are the lapping waves and brief sucking noises as the Stingrays’ mouths break the surface in their search for food. One by one, each person conquers their fear and stands in the water, tentatively stroking a now stationary Stingray as the guide feeds it dead fish. The skin feels slightly oily, and is smooth to the touch. Although a relative of the shark, the ray only sucks its food and it isn’t long before the guide has everyone feeding them.
There follows the highlight of the trip, which is only for the truly brave. Under direction from the guide, any takers sit in the shallow water, legs outstretched, and hold a tasty morsel on their stomach. The well-practiced rays swim up the legs and hover there, sucking away until they have claimed their prize. Given the rays’ position, it takes iron will not to flinch; but the only risk is getting a Stingray love-bite on the thigh.
With the supply of fish finally exhausted, it’s back onto the boat for the journey home. As the shallows are left behind and the engine roars into life, the rays seem to melt into the lagoon; going about their normal routine until the next meal delivery arrives.