Swimming with Spotted Eagle Ray

It is February 4th, 2008 and I am on Bonaire for two weeks, scuba diving. My neighbor stopped by yesterday evening and said, “The rays feed in the shallow sand at Bari’s Reef around 4:30-5:30 in the evening. Be there and hang out, and I guarantee you will see them, and sting rays too.” So today I planned my afternoon around that promise.

Bari's Reef is one of the many dive sites that line the west side of Bonaire. Most of them are marked by yellow rocks, and they have buoys anchored at 15 feet, typically at the start of the reef. Divers rent trucks and load them with tanks and head out to explore the abundant life.

On the surface my mission matches my fellow fin-foots, to see the unexpected and marvel at the beauty of it all. But my social purpose is to connect shamanically with the spirits of the reef, building my cosmological knowledge and bringing new sources of healing to my practice.

When I first introduced myself to the reef creatures, swimming along side them and hoping to connect, I got blank stares. These animals do not stand up and volunteer straight away. This is a fluid discovery process for me; there isn’t a recipe. So far I learned that they respond to me after I have courted them both under water and in shamanic journeys. I am not sure how this works or what it all means, but I want to learn.

I haven’t journeyed to eagle ray yet. Today I went to meet the rays in person, to introduce myself as a friend and to observe their beauty and ways. I will describe that now. Then later I will journey to them. After that they may become helping spirits when appropriate. I’ll share these things with you as they unfold.

Spotted Eagle Ray. The shallow sand is filled with life. I got there early and waited 45 minutes at 15 feet, moving very slowly. The water is a bit murky right now because it is the rainy season. I can see clearly for about 15 feet, then things become vague. 30 feet away was a grey fog bank. I scanned the horizon and kept an eagle eye out, until the soft swaying of some grasses caught my eye. But they weren’t grasses at all, they were garden eels, my first garden eels ever, and one of the fishes I had on my list to try and find this trip.I was moving so slowly they were not alarmed. But as soon as they did see me, whoosh, down into their holes they went, and they stayed there for as long as it took for me to leave. After 10 minutes of hovering very quietly I decided to slip away and circle round from another direction. A few minutes later they were out dancing again, half their bodies emerged from the sand, swaying like cobras in a basket. This time their alarms went off when a trunk fish came prowling. These adorable triangular shaped fish have puckered lips that probe every hole for goodies. In a world where fish are very wary, trunk fish have the run of the place, as some of them secrete a poison when threatened.

After 45 minutes of this floating in a cloud of white sand and misty horizons the can of life on my back was diminishing.I had about 15 minutes before I went into damned fool mode. Then suddenly he was there in front of me, calmly floating with waving wings.Small white spots on the top of the body and a face that is the image of an eagle, give the ray its name. His underside is pure white, and his rat thin tail is the length of his body over again. This particular ray's tail had an interesting jointed turn at the end, like a small bent finger. He has a dog like mouth and snout, and he makes precision attacks in the sand, digging for his delicious crab dinner, leaving a 9 or so inch indentation, not unlike a hole that a Matsutake mushroom picker leaves after lifting a buried gem in the forest duff. (I digress, but Matsutakes and their hunters communicate shamanically, as the mushroom depends upon the hunter to disperse its spores. “They just call to you” the long time hunters say.)

The eagle ray and I swam side by side for at least 5 minutes, maybe 10. He showed me his softness. I offered my heart. The connection was tentative, but warm and filled with good will. Finally it was time to say goodbye, and we separated. Now I will journey to Eagle Ray Tribe and court them formally. And then I will return to the water at dinner time again, this time with my camera!

Here is a place to learn about Spotted Eagle Rays