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Tourists alters stingray behavior

Stingrays living in Stingray City in the Cayman Islands — have profoundly changed their ways, reports a new study published in the journal PLOS One.
Credit:   Peter Symes
Tourists interact with Southern stingrays at Stingray City
The researchers found that Stingray City's stingrays show distinctly different patterns of activity than their wild counterparts, who don't enjoy daily feedings or close human contact.
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There are likely to be some health costs that come with these behavior changes, and they could be detrimental to the animals' well-being in the long term

— Mahmood Shivji, director of the Guy Harvey Research Institute and NSU Oceanographic Center professor

Wild stingrays are active at night and solitary — they forage through the night over large distances to find food, and rarely cross paths with other stingrays. To see if Stingray City's fed stingrays stray from this behavior, Mark Corcoran, lead author of the study who did the research as part of his graduate work at NSU, and the research team tagged and monitored both wild and fed stingrays over the course of two years and compared their patterns of movement.

They found that fed stingrays swapped their normal nighttime foraging for daytime feeding, and in contrast to their wild counterparts, began to rest at night. They also didn't mind rubbing shoulders with their neighbors: At least 164 stingrays abandoned the species' normal solitary behavior, crowding together in less than a quarter square mile of space at Stingray City.

They even formed schools and fed together. The fed stingrays mated and became pregnant year-round, instead of during a specific mating season, and also showed signs of unusual aggression, biting each other more frequently than their wild counterparts.

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