The Cayman Islands Department of Environment has rejected a suggestion by Dolphin Discovery for the establishment of a reproduction programme for stingrays.
Although the number of southern stingrays at the Sandbar in Grand Cayman is declining, the overall population of rays in the wild does not seem to be in danger of disappearing and therefore, a captive breeding programme is not necessary, Director of Environment Gina Ebanks-Petrie said last week.
In an advertisement in the Caymanian Compass on Friday, Dolphin Discovery stated it was “currently in discussions with regards to a reproductive programme with the stingrays at Dolphin Discovery”.
“The DoE’s position is that the stingray population around the Cayman Islands are not endangered,” Ms Ebanks-Petrie said. “We’re not at a situation where we have to take stingrays into captivity in order to breed them.”
The dolphinarium in West Bay has six stingrays in its tanks – five males and one female. Last week, the facility released four stingrays to Department of Environment staff and volunteers who returned the rays to the Sandbar, where they had been tagged in January as part of a census.
The Department of Environment requested the release of all 10 animals and Dolphin Discovery agreed to release the four tagged ones. According to management at Dolphin Discovery, fishermen brought the stingrays to the facility and had swapped them for bait – leftover fish from the dolphin feedings.
The Department of Environment has also asked the facility to allow the remaining six rays to be tagged so that they may be monitored in the future, but Dolphin Discovery has not agreed to this.
Ms Ebanks-Petrie said her department was concerned about the situation Stingray City. “We’ve been concerned for a few years now about the health of that population of animals because, while it is a wild situation, the parameters around that population are not normal. Stingrays are normally solitary animals. What we have at Stingray City is an aggregation of solitary animals that are there because they’re being heavily provisioned; they show up and they get a free meal,” she said. The environment director pointed out that the situation with stingrays in Cayman is vastly different to that of the blue iguana, for which a breeding programme had to be established to prevent that animal from becoming extinct.
“We certainly would not support a breeding programme [for stingrays] at this stage,” she said. Rather than see the six stingrays remaining at Dolphin Discovery used for a reproduction programme, she wants to see those rays released back into the wild. A census of the stingrays in January found 61 stingrays at the Sandbar. A similar count done in July showed just 57 rays, only five of which were male.