As I wrote Wednesday part of the fishermen’s haul on Monday at Buenaventura were two large Stingrays. I know some readers (or worrying mom’s) will automatically think of Steve Irwin (The Crocodile Hunter) and his untimely death at the age of 44 while swimming with Giant Rays. In this case he was trying near the back of the giant ray, which was reacting much like a kicking horse. When rays are startled or frightened, they whip their long tails back and forth, and the very sharp barbs stick out. As Irwin tried to go over the stingray, the barb in the tail speared him in the chest and pierced his heart, killing him.
Even if you don’t plan on trying to swim with a stingray encountering one is avoidable if you venture into the ocean. Getting stung is about as enjoyable as living through another Polar Vortex. Some of the ways to avoid startling these creatures are to wear shoes in the water and to shuffle your feet along the sandy bottom to stir them up so they can move out of your way. The stingrays will swim away and you’ll both be happy.
Rays and sharks have a skeleton made of cartilage and not bone. Rays differ from sharks in that their side fins are large and attached to their heads forming a large disc shaped body to which a whip-like tail with stinging spines is attached. Most are bottom dwellers and many will stay close to shore. There are 600 species including some of the largest fish in the ocean and are divided into three groups; Rays, Skates and Guitarfishes and some can grow can grow to almost 9 metres long (including their tails) and weigh over 350kg.
If you do have an unfortunate encounter with a stingray it’s good to know that the protein on the stinger is comparable to that of a bee or a wasp sting. People who are allergic to bee or wasp stings may develop an anaphylactic reaction requiring speedy medical attention. If you’re not allergic soaking the affected area in hot water will help break down the toxins. It is also recommended to see a doctor to make sure that there are no further complications.
After I was assured that the stingrays caught in the nets on Monday would be used I was curious if people really ate them and if so how they were prepared. I found many opinions on different forums. One said that stingray was a “third world fish”; the writer’s opinion being that only those who couldn’t afford any “real” fish ate it. Some said preparing the fish wasn’t worth the effort but said that it is good for cut bait for other fishing trips. Others waxed poetic about how delicious the meat is if prepared properly.
What I found is that stingray meat, because it is so plentiful is often substituted for scallops. Apparently the perfect size eating stingray is one with a wingspan of around 18 inches to two feet. Anything smaller doesn’t give enough meat to make the effort practical and anything larger is sinewy and tough. Most agree that boiling the meat with an acid such as lemon or vinegar and a few spices softens the meat and makes it tastier. The prepared meat can then be used as a replacement for crab-meat or bay scallops or seared on the barbeque for other dishes.
I observed that the fishermen that were bringing the net in on Monday knew how to grab the rays out of the nets right away and everyone knew not to get too close to the net until they did. Once the two designated men pulled the rays out they quickly knocked off the barbs that were on each side of the tails. It was a little sad watching these large fish slowly expire on the sand while the fishermen gathered the other fish from the nets; then I realized that this is the way of life and of death in the fishing community and villages of Panama.