Swimmer shocks onlookers with divisive stingray act at Aussie beach

While stingray attacks are very rare, injuries or worse do happen occasionally in Australian waters.

Australians looking to cool off have enjoyed a close encounter with a stingray with one beachgoer sparking debate about how to act around the potentially harmful creatures after he was filmed intentionally diving down behind it.

A clip of the moment shows a number of swimmers near the edge of the water below a jetty as the stingray swims around, just metres from the people. While most appear apprehensive and keen to keep their distance, one man does the exact opposite.

The video was posted to Facebook by a fisherman on the NSW south coast who told Yahoo News Australia the footage was sent to him. It's understood to have been taken at Bawley Point in NSW.

The stingray seen near swimmers at Bawley Point.
The stingray was filmed cruising around the crowded fishing spot. Source: Facebook

"Let's get killed by a stingray ... These things are dangerous and should never be taken for granted," he said when sharing the video.

Others online were quick to agree. "If he only had a brain," one person chided. "Natural selection at its finest," another commented. However many were quick to defend the swimmer, calling many people "childish" for their condemning comments.

"Oh please, calm down. I was there that day ... and that big ray was cruising around all the time - completely unperturbed by everyone. I've dived with them hundreds of times, hand fed them often, and love being in the water with them," one person responded.

"I was there that day ... that ray was swimming back and forth while people were jumping. He never once tried to grab it or hold on he was simply swimming behind it," another said.

A simmer seen diving under the water to follow a stingray.
The swimmer's actions divided viewers. Source: Facebook

Are stingrays actually dangerous?

The video comes just weeks after a man was rushed to hospital after a suspected stingray attack at a beach in Sydney’s eastern suburbs. However, in part thanks to the death of wildlife icon Steve Irwin from a stingray, the animals have arguably earned an unfair reputation. Stingray-caused deaths are actually very rare, according to Jaelen Myers, visiting marine ecology researcher at Queensland's James Cook University.

Stingrays rarely act aggressively, she says, and while all all stingrays are rays, not all rays are stingrays.

"The barb is the only part of a stingray you should be wary of. Since it is located close to the base of the tail on most species, the rest of the tail and the body are harmless to touch," she wrote recently. "You're only in barbing range if you stand nearly on top of their bodies, but they usually shuffle away long before you get that close."

Like most animals, when stingrays feel threatened they may react defensively by jerking their tail. Most such injuries occur in the shallows when people are stung on the foot or ankle which will vary in severity and pain degree but aren't typically life threatening.

When it comes injuries caused by marine life, a 2017 report found that between 2013 and 2016 there had been 116 incidents involving stingrays in NSW, second only to bluebottles.

Deaths from stingrays, although rare, do happen. In 2018, a 42-year-old man died of a heart attack after being stung while swimming in Tasmania.

Love Australia's weird and wonderful environment? Get our new newsletter showcasing the week’s best stories.