I was reminded recently by the news coverage of the anniversary of Steve 'The Crocodile Hunter' Irwin's untimely death a little over year ago. It was a freak accident, he was pierced by a poisonous spine to his chest while chasing stingrays in Australia. I remember thinking at the time that had he been attacked and killed by a croc or been bitten by a venomous snake, I wouldn't have been surprised... but a stingray?
I had chased after one myself while snorkling near the same location Irwin was filming at the Great Barrier reef off the coast of Port Douglas. Well, maybe more like tried to, at least. Stingrays are very docile creatures, they lay in the sand unless disturbed and if bothered will glide away flying like an underwater bird in slow motion. They are peaceful to watch and about as unthreatening as you can get for a sea creature.
It seems odd to me now, at the time while exploring that amazing underwater place I was more concerned with a possible stray shark or barracuda then I was with the rays. We'd swim after them pretending we were flying above watching their fins flap like startled birds as they sped away. We were amused, but threatened? Nah. I felt more concern back then at having just come from a white water trip in Queensland where the guide reminded me that should I be thrown from the raft while running a rapid I should get to shore quickly and to just watch out for the the estuarine crocodiles that populated the river we were running. They were dangerous.
Now that was something to worry about.
More crocs kill people in Australia than Great Whites. But then who knew I might have been in more danger playing with the rays then I imagined that sunny afternoon. And here I was trying to pet one. This did however, reinforce my notion that sometimes what we perceive to be the real threats to our safety may only be a smokescreen to what could be the real danger.
That, and don't chase the rays... even if they seem to want to play.