Keeping stingrays is a niche fascination, for sure. And despite the advent of prodigiously bigger tanks – and big ideas – it’s probably best if it stays that way…
Are stingrays tankbusters? the freshwater ones, i mean. i’ve been brooding on it since i read Dave Wolfenden’s (really good) feature on them on page 82 this month. and, moreover, will i end up alienating readers if i say that they are? i guess that’s a risk that comes with the territory of formulating my thoughts.
i recall a discussion that came up with an avid stingray fan a while back. He couldn’t understand why freshwater stingrays were being classed as tankbusters at all. His reasoning was that so many folks are keeping them successfully – and not just keeping them, but breeding them as well.
now i can’t deny that stingrays are being bred in prodigious numbers. But i wonder if this stingray fan was confusing what makes a tankbuster? it’s new to me to classify a tankbuster as a fish that doesn’t breed readily in the home aquarium.
Breeding activity doesn’t necessarily correspond to welfare at all, of course. i’ve known of many fish that breed in less than optimal conditions. in my public aquarium days, our indigenous ray tank was a horrid and primitive thing, with barely functioning undergravel filters and constant water quality woes. Could we stop them breeding in there? Could we heck. every morning we were netting out eggs and babies.
as for the claim that people are keeping them successfully, i’d be inclined to leaf through the dictionary and see if we’re using the same definition of success. is mere survival success? i guess for some it is. But is it success to have a fish in a tank not even as wide as its own disc? in a tank where to turn around is a chore? i’m not sure we’d be reading from the same page with such a claim. For me, success would be seeing stingrays behaving as they would in the wild.
in the hobby, for the best part, the stingray phenomenon has been left well alone. the collective of stingray keepers – there are many stingray keepers – are a breed apart from most ‘lay’ aquarists.
nobody buys a stingray by accident or on a whim – they’re too expensive for that. Most stingray keepers do seem to have good-sized tanks. some have even set up indoor pseudo ponds – large bodies of water with three bricked and lined sides and maybe a glass panel at the front.
there are more large tanks now than there have ever been. i see images of folks sharing their custom purchases, hulking great lumps of glass on welded metal stands. i see people actually researching the fish before they buy them. they post on social media, visit forums, watch videos.
it feels like evolution of the hobby. a handful of aquarists who have grown fat on nano tanks are pupating, emerging as new creatures with fresh ideas. as nano declines, the big tanks grow, in all senses.
i prefer to observe and reflect the industry, rather than make proclamations about it. and my observation is that the stingray keepers seem to be sailing a pretty good ship. With the ever-present exceptions, they care and invest in their fish, and in no half-hearted manner. the fish are trophies, for sure. all dangerous fish have a trophy quality about them, and stingrays have the power to kill. But these trophies are also pretty. and pricey.
that’s the real difference, i think. the classic tankbusters were ‘throwaway’ fish. Cheap. Disposable. a stingray is anything but. Maybe they’re not tankbusters after all. Maybe there’s something to be said for being a trophy fish...
Stingrays in an indoor pond.
Nathan Hill is Practical Fishkeeping magazine’s associate editor, biotope fancier, aquascape dabbler and part-time amateur skateboarder.