Stingray City is a famous site that attracts thousands of tourists both to see and be in the water with southern stingrays (Dasyatis americana) that arrive to take advantage of being hand fed. The site is on a shallow sand bar located in Grand Cayman’s North Sound and large numbers of the stingrays congregate over the day in this small area. This is a very inviting for their predators, the great hammerhead (Sphyrna mokarran) and tiger sharks (Galeocerdo cuvier). While no visitor has been hurt by one of these large sharks and very few have even glimpsed one in the area, the sharks are caught and killed by fishers as a deterrent. There is much fear of sharks and most species are killed when caught. With the Cayman Islands Department of Environment, SOSF, Marine Conservation International and the Guy Harvey Research Institute, we are working to understand the movements of these large sharks and to educate the community about the value of having the sharks in the environment.
We spent much time trying to catch a great hammerhead and tiger shark at a number of locations and times of day around Stingray City. Finally, we had success in December 2010. There was great relief to have caught Tina and then Luiza, both female tiger sharks by the North Sound and admiration at how stunning the tiger shark is. Both sharks were very relaxed while we applied a SPOT tag to their dorsal fins and swam off afterwards. Then came the wait to see if they would surface to allow the signal from their tags to reach the satellite. Luckily, we had our first location signaled from Tina the next day. She and Luiza have been around the North Sound for a few months, generally keeping out of the way of Stingray City and coming up to the surface at night and outside of the reef.
The North Sound is an area heavily used by tourists, fishers and is a main area for boat traffic. Understanding the movement and use of areas of the North Sound by Tina and Luiza will allow us to discuss with the community what they might expect from tiger sharks and how to accommodate both the sharks and people. This is exciting news from the sharks that will feed into our Positive Shark Campaign for the Cayman Islands!