For fifteen years, Dr. Guy Harvey’s been keeping tabs on the stingrays that call the stingray sandbar home with his twice-yearly census.
Dr. Harvey and his crew of volunteers hit the sandbar again this week for 2017’s first count, breaking into triple figures for just the second time in census history.
“So if we get three or four today I’ll be really happy if we get to 100 I’ll be really happy,” said Dr. Harvey as the last of three days of stingray research began.
Later that day, Dr. Harvey found yet another reason to smile, as he and crew members hoisted stingray number 100. The number is the second best tally in census history, and a far cry from its low point back in 2012 when the population plummeted to just 57 stingrays.
“Our count [in 2012] was at the lowest it ever was, and since then it’s come back,” said Dr. Harvey. “There are a lot of reasons for the decline in numbers, but it’s come back to around 90 to 100 animals on any given day here.”
I like to bring them tuna this is skipjack tuna, blackened tuna, stuff like that…
Attracting the rays is easy with the right bait. Dr. Harvey prefers to use fish instead of squid. He told Cayman 27 squid, despite its popularity among tour operators as a stingray snack, is not a natural part of the stingray diet.
It takes skill and speed to catch a stingray, and pure unadulterated brawn to hoist some of the larger females, who can weigh more than 100 pounds, out of the water and aboard the research boat.
Once safely on-deck in a kiddie pool, the rays are measured and scanned for a unique ID tag. Then, a small sample is collected from each ray before it’s returned to the water.
“This animal, in its lifetime, will generate ten million dollars for the economy of the Cayman Islands,” said Dr. Harvey, as he released a large female back into the water.
Dr. Harvey said the work is as important today as it was back when the census began in 2002.
“You’ve got a wonderful baseline of data, you’ve got history on individual animals going back fifteen years, there’s no other study like this,” he said.
Today’s data, he told Cayman 27, gives him confidence that the system is in equilibrium.