Ray buffet at Tarakohe

CHARLOTTE SQUIRE
Last updated 13:00 07/03/2014
Oliver Mitchell and Kahu Marsh
ALDEN WILLIAMS/Fairfax NZ
FEEDING TIME: 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 area has a new wildlife experience - stingray feeding at Tarakohe wharf.

Pirate Espresso Ship owner Oliver Mitchell has been feeding one to six friendly short-tailed black stingrays every day at 2pm, using a long stick.

Along with attracting the hungry rays, he tends to attract 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," he said.

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

Mr Mitchell 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 rays were only here for the summer, as they migrated north of New Zealand each winter.

The stingrays ranged in size from one to two metres wide, or "as big as a double bed", he said, with an average size of 1.5m.

Wellington-based principal scientist from the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, Dr Malcolm Francis, said stingrays tended to have the disposition of a cat, and somehow knew when people were trying to feed them and didn't bite.

He said divers hand-fed stingrays in the Caribbean and at Kelly Tarlton's Sea Life Aquarium in Auckland.

"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."

They could grow up to 4.3m long, including the tail, but people "don't tend to see the huge ones any more".

Dr Francis said the main predators of stingrays were orca and hammerhead sharks.

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

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

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- The Nelson Mail

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