Our Adventure Newcastle series continues at Irukandji Shark & Ray Encounters, where we sent our contributor, Brittany, to get up close and personal with some interesting sea creatures – including a mammoth 325kg stingray…
I admit, I was slightly apprehensive going into this edition of Adventure Newcastle. You see, up until now, I thought I had a fear of stingrays. In fact, I wasn’t too keen on getting close to any sea creature outside of the more conventionally “cute” ones like dolphins, turtles and tropical fish.
Then I met Raspy, in all her 325kg majestic glory. Raspy is a Black Stingray, which just happens to be one of the largest species of rays in the world. But, how does being in the water with an enormous stingray help in dissipating one’s fear, you ask? It’s simple, you just hug it out. But, more on that later…
Before we hit the water, we met up with our guide Tina, who kitted us out with wetsuits and water shoes. Don’t worry, if you aren’t too fussed on getting wet or forget your swimmers but still want to get in the water, they also have waders to wear over your warm, dry clothes.
Tina ran us through all the different species they have at the centre, as well as the do’s and don’t’s while in the water with them e.g. DO give the creatures a pat when they swim up to you. DON’T poke them in the eyes. Simple!
First stop on the tour is jumping in with the cheekiest bunch at the centre – the young Port Jackson sharks, Gummy sharks, and playful Eagle rays. Perhaps the most surprising discovery of the day was how affectionate stingrays are! They are like excitable puppies – albeit, slightly slimier – when they see you coming, they almost jump out of the water to greet you. Check it out in the video below…
Much like a dog will want to get close to you and pick up your scent, the stingrays want to touch you and pick up on your body’s electric signals. To do so, they swim right up your legs, using their wings like fingertips.
Feeling something brush up against you when you’re in the water can be a bit unnerving at first, but you quickly get used to these inquisitive creatures coming up to say hello.
Once we’d given the younger sharks and rays a feed, it was then on to the next tank to visit the gentle giant, Raspy. She is certainly breathtaking on first view. Her enormous size can be slightly intimidating when you first get into the water with her, but any reservations are put at bay once you see how placid she is.
Raspy is arguably the biggest star at Irukandji, and definitely my favourite of the day. If you duck down in the water, she is more than happy to come up and give you a stingray hug, placing one of her huge wings right over your chest.
Once you get a cuddle from Raspy, you immediately fall in love with her. And therein lies the centre’s whole purpose – they believe that if humans are able to get up close and see how amazing these creatures are, then we’ll be more inclined to help save something we love.
A big component of the tour at Irukandji is educating visitors on marine conservation, and how we can get involved to help save our oceans. A number of species at the centre, such as the Tawny Nurse Shark, are considered to be endangered due to over-fishing, culling, or destruction of their natural environment.
The last visit of the day is with the Tawny sharks. Here we find another favourite at Irukandji, a shark named ‘Fluffy’. Light pink in colour and measuring at almost 4m in length, Fluffy will come right up to you for a pat of the head, and if you’re lucky, he might even roll over for a belly rub!
The centre is completely undercover and protected from the elements, so a day at Irukandji is suitable in any weather and any season. As adults (or big kids at heart), we spent a good few hours at the centre and enjoyed every minute, so for animal lovers, both young and old, it’s a great activity.
If you want a unique experience of getting up close with some creatures you would not (and should not) interact with in the wild, then Irukandji is the place for you! Check out http://www.sharkencounters.com.au/ for more details or to book your own shark and ray encounter.
IRUKANDJI SHARK & RAY ENCOUNTERS
Duration: An in-water experience tour runs for about 1.5 hours
Adventure Level: Gentle
Adventure Scale: 6 out of 10 shark fins
Stay tuned for the next Adventure Newcastle feature, our new series where we test-run some of the best activities and experiences on offer in Newcastle and the Hunter.