Forget swimming with stingrays, the coolest thing you can do is feed them! Living in the Bahamas and learning everything he can about the stingrays, your guide is known to locals as the “Stingray Whisperer” and here’s what a tour with him is like.
When we first met him in the lobby of our hotel, Keith Cooper, seemed like formidable man. His stature and demeanor though friendly, seemed a bit intimidating as well. I wasn’t surprised to learn that cooper is ex-military, and he runs his business much in the same way. It’s quite the opposite of the “island time” mantra that many other businesses in the Bahamas seem to operate within.
The first thing you need to know about these tours is that Mr. Cooper’s boat is rather small. There were only six of us and it was a tight fit, but luckily that is what makes West Ecological tours so amazing – the small size. It means Keith can spend time guiding you on exactly how to interact with these incredible sea creatures.
Where do you go to pet and feed the stingrays? Is it like Stingray City in the Caymans?
We were on the boat for about 30-40 minutes and Keith pointed out some mansions that celebrities like to rent out. He mentioned names like Rhiana and Beyonce. It wasn’t too long before we pulled on to a cay (pronounced “key”) which felt like our own little private island. As we were pulling up, before he could even turn off the engine the stingrays started swarming, recognizing Keith. These are pretty smart creatures. And it wasn’t just the stingrays that were overjoyed the see Keith. He was indeed pleased to see them as well, even able to identify them. He’s given them names like “Roxy” and “Big Mama” and is able to recognize them by the markings on their bodies.
In the Caymans, many go to Stingray City to swim with the stingrays. The difference is that this is vastly saturated and you don’t get the more intimate experience you will get with West Ecological Tours and Keith Cooper.
Get to know your stingray guide and the stingray whisperer, Keith Cooper.
Keith has spent the last ten years learning about stingrays and getting to know them. To date, he is the sole owner, operator and tour guide on this excursion to feed the stingrays. Because of his time spent learning about the stingrays, and the comfort they have around him, swarming him when he gets off his boat and allowing him to hug and kiss them in addition to feeding them, he has become known all around the Bahamas as the Stingray Whisperer. After seeing him in action, not many would disagree with his title.
What are popular questions that guests ask Cooper about stingrays?
Have you ever been bitten by a stingray?
It is not being bitten is the suction that stingrays can apply with their tentacles. They do this when they are pregnant and they are more hungry then normal. I can rub their bellies and tell if they are pregnant. One got a hold of my arm and just wouldn’t let go. That hurt a little.
After what happened with Steve Irwin, being stung by a a stingray, are you not worried?
No, because I’ve gotten to know the stingrays well. What happened to Steve Irwin was a sad thing. But he disobeyed a cardinal rule by mishandling an animal he didn’t know well. I would not dare grab the tail of a stingray that I had not interacted before. Now I can do it to a stingray that knows and trusts me and it will be okay. But I would never let any of my guests on the tour do that.
What have you learned about stingrays that surprised you?
They do not have the crowd mentality, but like to be on their own. They don’t like to be bunched up. They like having their own space. Also an alpha female will push another one out of the way – they definitely have a pecking order!
5 things you need to know before you swim and feed stingrays
- Make sure to lather up on the sunscreen. Most of your boat ride and time in the ocean you will be exposed to sun and you don’t want to get burned.
- You cannot be afraid of sharks if you are going to swim and feed stingrays. The lure of the fish that the stingrays feed on attracts not only them but sharks. We had some sharks swimming near us and were instructed to keep calm (a lot easier said than done) and not feed them (obviously).
- You should have a basic understanding of snorkeling or have done it several times before. I had in the Caymans but that had been years and I was a bit rusty. It seems pretty obvious but I couldn’t get my mask on right, my hair was everywhere and it was holding the rest of the group up from swimming with the stingrays and Keith was getting frustrated with me.
- Ladies, you cannot go swimming and feeding the stingrays if you are on your period. There’s no tactful way to say this – ANY amount of blood could attract a shark and it is not worth the risk. You will be asked if it is that time of the month, so just don’t sign up to be on the tour if it is.
- Contrary to other gimmicky tours this is truly a once in a lifetime experience you will treasure forever. The small group size means you get hands on experience and even have the opportunity to be filmed underwater with a GoPro camera.
What I loved about the stingray experience in the Bahamas, besides the fact that we had such personal attention, is the care and thoughtfulness to the animals. Although guest safety is a priority, Cooper cares deeply for the stingrays and making sure they are protected. While we were there, another boat came ashore and Cooper carefully kept his eye on those people as they got close to the stingrays, watchful that they didn’t mistreat them.
What is the cost of the stingray experience tour (feeding, petting and swimming)?
Stingray Experience Tour Prices
The prices are based on the following rate of $169.00 per person (child/adult) for 3 to 6 persons.
Customized multi-day and combo tour prices can be quoted upon request. Here’s the West End Eco tours site.
Here’s a video of the Stingray experience: