Today I took The Girl to the Lowry Park Zoo, which, in my childhood, was one of those concrete and cages kind of places, but is now a really amazing, animal-friendly zoo. We have had passes for the past year but I just now, a few weeks before the expiration date, realized that I could take The Girl there on Mondays for a few hours when school gets out an hour early (budget cuts, you know). By taking her there on Mondays, we avoid bringing along The Boy, who considers zoos and amusement parks to be circles of Hell. Too bad I didn't think of this sooner.
This week, she wanted to see the stingrays before getting her roller coaster on. That was fine with me, since I enjoy all the water animals. The Girl was excited to touch the stingrays and (I thought) wanted to feed them. Stingrays in petting areas like this are debarbed and therefore "not dangerous." Allegedly.
The place was pretty much deserted, which, in retrospect, probably meant that the stingrays were extra hungry. We bought a serving of food, which was $5 for a sardine and two shrimps (ridiculous). There was also a shrimp tail which, also in retrospect, probably was not intentionally included.
I've fed stingrays before but still listened to the spiel about putting my hand flat on the bottom with the food sticking out between two fingers (which, also ALSO in retrospect, is hard to do when 10 hungry stingrays are swimming at you faster than you can get your hand flat on said bottom). I took The Girl over to the stingray pool. I showed her how to hold the sardine, which I tore in half per instructions (yummy). I hoisted her up (she's short) and she tried to feed the swarm of rays, but she let go of the sardine early and squealed. The majority of the unfed rays registered their disapproval about the whole situation by splashing The Girl, whose face was pretty close to the water. She got really wet, which she took in stride, give or take.
After we shook ourselves dry, I proceeded to show The Girl how there was nothing to be afraid of when feeding stingrays (except for getting wet, of course). I decided to use the tail piece so that The Girl would still have several more pieces of food left. I hurried to get my hand into the position on the bottom of the pool. And in about .25 seconds, a greedy ray was hovering over my hand, trying to sort out the difference between this weenie piece of shrimp tail and the skin on my knuckles. He failed. Suddenly, I felt a sharp pinch and I jumped a bit but kept the shrieks and swear words in so as to continue to assure The Girl that stingray feeding is awesomely safe and oodles of fun. I looked at the women nearby and said quietly, "That thing just BIT me!" I looked at my finger and saw blood bubbling up. "And it DREW BLOOD!" I said, a bit more loudly. I was really surprised, but again, I tried to keep it on the down low.
I knew it was ultimately my fault for trying to feed that little piece of shrimp tail so that I could maximize that $5 spent (not even by me... my mom paid). Of course, it WAS in with the food and no one told me not to feed it, but, you know. I knew it was probably not a great idea. In my own defense, though, I have fed lots of stingrays and I've torn shrimp into many illegal pieces before with no problems. I just didn't factor in the hunger level on a slow food day. Plus, I knew that stingrays don't have real teeth, just plates for grinding. I didn't ever expect them to be capable of nipping.
We carefully fed the rest of the rays, with me putting my hand on top of The Girl's once to make sure she would be safe. The rest of the time, she had me seek out the "little, cute ones" to feed while a big ray (maybe two feet across?) parked himself in front of me with his eyes out of the water, giving me a rather sinister look. The whole lot of them splashed us several more times, getting water even in our mouths (hope they clean that pool a lot!). When done, we headed over to the hand-washing station and washed a lot more than our hands.
And that's how I came to be the only person you know who was bitten by a stingray today.
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