Stingray feeding sustains curiosity

CHARLOTTE SQUIRE
Last updated 10:11 06/03/2014
Oliver Mitchell and Kahu Marsh
CHARLOTTE SQUIRE/FAIRFAX NZ
FEEDING TIME: Tarakohe pirate Oliver Mitchell and Kahu Marsh feed a friendly stingray some squid.

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Golden Bay's tame eels have been a popular attraction for 100 years, and now the region has a new wildlife experience, stingray feeding at Tarakohe wharf.

Tarakohe's resident pirate and Pirate Espresso Ship owner Oli Mitchell has been feeding up to six stingray every afternoon.

Besides attracting the hungry stingrays, he tends to draw a crowd of fascinated onlookers.

"It started off with families fishing, they'd catch little fish and I'd tell them to chop them into pieces and feed them to the stingray.

"They always swim past here, this is their highway."

Oli said he tried hand-feeding them once but it was far too "freaky."

"You put your hand in the water right up to your elbow. I prefer to use a stick."

He said the stingrays were only here for the summer as they migrated north of New Zealand each winter.

The stingrays at Tarakohe have ranged in size from 1 to 2m or "as big as a double bed" with an average size of 1.5m wide.

Wellington-based principal scientist from NIWA Dr Malcolm Francis said stringrays tend to have the disposition of a cat and somehow knew when people were trying to feed them. He said they didn't generally bite people and that in the Caribbean and at Kelly Tarlton's Auckland aquarium, divers hand-fed stringrays.

"They're usually very friendly, but like cats, if you're not careful they might bite, or sting in this case."

He said they would only raise their tails in the water in self-defence.

"Their sting is poisonous and potentially dangerous."

The main predators of the stingray are killer whales and hammerhead sharks.

Malcolm said the stingrays at Tarakohe were short-tailed black stringrays.

"That species occurs pretty much throughout New Zealand, mostly commonly in the North Island and in Cook Straight."

He said they can grow up to 430cm long, including the tail, but "you don't tend to see the huge ones any more".

To experience a stingray feeding at Tarakohe visit the Pirate Espresso Ship earlier in the day and talk to Oli Mitchell or turn up at the wharf leading to the Espresso Ship just before 2pm and look down.

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