They came for “breakfast with the rays” and found the rays were on the menu.
Tourists on a Red Sail Sports trip to Stingray Sandbar on Saturday got a rare glimpse of nature in action when an 8-foot great hammerhead shark showed up.
The shark appeared to be hunting and was later discovered to have eaten at least one stingray. The species, which is not typically dangerous to humans, is known to inhabit the North Sound, but sightings on the Sandbar are relatively rare.
Katie Thorpe, a photographer with Caribbean Producer Services, was on board the Red Sail boat, and swam with the shark for 15 minutes, capturing close-up images.
“None of the images are zoomed in. The shark was maybe an arm’s length away from me,” she said.
“It didn’t cross my mind to be worried, I was so excited. I have never been that close to such a big shark before. It was a super cool experience. I feel so lucky. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
She said the shark had been hunting and the staff found a stingray with a chunk taken out of it under the boat.
The Red Sail boat showed up at the Sandbar around 8 a.m. for its breakfast trip. There was one other boat at the other side of the Sandbar, which was otherwise empty at that time of morning.
While the staff jumped in to check out the shark, the guests stayed on board.
“Some of them found it amazing, others were a little wary, but they all got in once the shark had gone,” Thorpe said.
She believes most people understand that sharks are not generally a threat to people.
“They are gentle giants really,” she said. “Sharks are magnificent creatures, I know some people are scared of them but they really don’t need to be.”
Artist and environmentalist Guy Harvey, who has been documenting life at the Sandbar for over a decade through his ocean foundation, said sharks do prey on the rays at the site.
“It is spectacular when these predator-prey interactions happen. To be there [at] the right time [in] the right place is very lucky,” he said. “Hammerheads are the chief predator of southern stingrays, so you will get these interactions from time to time.”
He said it was great for tourists to get a close-up look at a great hammerhead, which is listed as an endangered species.
He said they were resident in the North Sound but not in significant numbers.
“They are generally shy animals and stay away from people,” he said. “You won’t see them at the Sandbar when there are 200 people there.”
The same was true of most sharks, he said, though his research teams have seen blacktip sharks, nurse sharks, tiger sharks and Caribbean reef sharks at the Sandbar on occasions over the years.
All shark species are relatively scarce in Cayman and their populations are decreasing in the world generally. Sharks are protected under Cayman’s National Conservation Law, and it is illegal to take them from the water.