Stingrays are fearsome looking creatures that cause panic and terror for those who do not understand them. The famous and tragic incident that caused the death of the beloved conservationist, Steve Irwin, has only amplified the anxiety surrounding these animals. But the truth is that they are gentle and highly intelligent creatures.
The reason that people fear stingrays is that they possess a sharp and toxic barb in their tails that can cause severe injury to a human. But stingrays are not aggressive and a human is not food for a stingray, so documented attacks on humans are almost zero. The stingray has one major predator, large sharks, which attack from above and behind. The stingray instinctively lashes out with its tail if it perceives that it is under attack in this manner. In all cases of injuries to humans, the stingray was acting defensively due to improper behaviour by people, or mistaken identity.
Stingrays often glide over shallow coral and rocks, as in this video, looking for crustaceans and mollusks in the sand. They have sensors in their wings that allow them to detect minuscule electrical impulses from animals burrowed into the ocean floor. They beat their wings to uncover the creatures and inhale them to be consumed. Because they may be found hunting, or even resting in shallow areas, humans can inadvertently step on them, resulting in a defensive strike. But stingrays usually see people coming and move away. Shy and reclusive, they will avoid humans, or remain still if they are camouflaged under sand.
People who are concerned about stepping on a stingray can walk slowly and use a shuffle approach in order to avoid surprising one. To see one swimming should be considered a treat, and perfectly safe, as long as a respectful distance is kept. Watching one glide gracefully through the water is a beautiful sight!