Disclosure: I participate as a SeaWorld and Aquatica Wildside blogger. My family and I receive complimentary access to the parks, in addition to other perks throughout the year. I was not asked to write about my experiences and the opinions are mine alone.
Last month, SeaWorld San Antonio announced their 2013 Wildside Texas parenting blog ambassadors and I’m proud to say that I was selected! SeaWorld’s blog ambassador program started in 2009 and, since then, they’ve continued to do an incredible job of bringing together some of Texas’ best parenting writers. Wildside blog ambassadors from across the state of Texas meet at the park a few times at year to learn about, experience, and share all about the wild side of SeaWorld and Aquatica with their readers. The full list of SeaWorld’s 2013 Wildside bloggers is not only a great resource of blogs that cover SeaWorld from a parenting perspective, but it’s also a great place to find Texas bloggers to follow. There are 25 Wildside bloggers on the list this year. Check it out!
Recently, the 2013 Wildsiders got together for a Spring Fling at Aquatica, SeaWorld’s new waterpark, to wade into the water with Cownose and Southern stingrays. Now, the number one question I hear about getting into the water with stingrays is, “How is that safe???” After spending time in the water with these docile creatures, and meeting the knowledgeable Aquatica team members, including the very helpful Bianca who kindly answered all of my questions, I have the answer!
Stingray barbs (or stingers) are made of a material that is similar to human fingernails. They don’t have feeling in their barbs, therefore the barbs can be cut or trimmed just like our fingernails. At Aquatica, the stingrays’ barbs are trimmed about once every three months. But the stingrays all look alike. How do they know if they’ve trimmed every single barb on every single stingray? Easy! Aquatica team members section off the stingrays into one area of the pool with a net. They gently extract each ray from the water and trim the barb (rays are only out of the water for about 10 seconds each) and then the stingray is moved to the other side of the net so they can keep track of which ones have already had their barbs trimmed. Pretty cool, right?
For my stingray experience, my five-year-old son accompanied me and, although I was certain that he’d change his mind at the last minute, he surprised me by striding right into the water with the stingrays swimming circles around our legs! Although he was brave, he was also a little nervous. He spent about half of the time standing in the pool while petting and feeding fish to the rays. The rest of the time he spent in my arms when the rays got a little overly excited about the fish in our hands.
The stingrays behave like eager water kittens! They swim right up to your legs and rub up against you, practically begging you to pet them. They’re velvety and slippery to the touch (some are even a little bumpy too). As it turns out, my bright white calves and thighs were a beacon to these gentle creatures, calling them to surround me. They must have thought I was a big, white fish because they kept sucking delicately on my legs. It was cool to have a reason finally to love my untanned thighs. 😉
Stingray encounters take place 12 times each day (every half hour) so the rays are fed nearly constantly throughout the day (although they quit eating when they are full). In the pool at Aquatica, you feed them small fish by holding each fish under water but up in your hand like a lollipop. The stingrays’ mouths are on their belly so they swim over the fish in your hand and suck it up like a vacuum.
In the wild, stingrays like to eat fish and shrimp. Shrimp are their very favorite food and, like us, they don’t like to eat the shell. They take the whole shrimp into their mouth, eat the meat, and spit out the shell!
At Aquatica, stingray encounters have no age limit (although children under 12 must be accompanied by an adult). The cost to enter the water with the stingrays and feed them is: $25 for each adult or child (ages 3-9). Babies under the age of three are free. Each paid admission to the Stingray Encounter includes one photo. The SeaWorld San Antonio and Aquatica website has full details on stingray encounters.
If you decide that getting in the water with the stingrays isn’t your thing, that’s OK. You can still get to know these interesting creatures from the sidelines. Just reach into the pool to pet them as they glide by and you can purchase a tray of fish for a few dollars to feed them from the side of the pool as well.
Stingrays are safe (and sweet!) at Aquatica. Get to know them the next time you’re there.