Families are flocking to a marina north of Auckland for a close encounter of a different kind.
Stingrays have a reputation for being deadly, but one Gulf Harbour resident appears to be anything but.
Brutus the stingray has become somewhat of a star attraction at Gulf Harbour Marina.
At nearly 1.5 metres wide he casts a fearsome shadow beneath the water, but this short-tailed stingray is a bit of a pussycat.
“If you give him a touch and a rub he certainly seems to appreciate it,” says Rex Smith of the Serious Fishing Company, which operates out of the Gulf Harbour.
He comes when called, loves to be petted, and even handfed.
Brutus has been visiting the harbour for more than 15 years. But Mr Smith, who runs fishing charters with wife Lynette, says it’s only in the past 18 months he’s started getting this friendly.
“There’s about eight or nine other stingrays here that feed but they don’t come up and be handfed. He’s certainly learned the benefits of being handfed, he gets all the goodies.”
And he’s certainly making a splash. Stingrays are commonly found in warmer waters off the North Island, but this kind of behaviour is very rare.
“It’s unusual, but they are fairly intelligent animals and they can learn to do anything that suits them,” says NIWA fisheries scientist Dr Malcolm Francis.
They have poisonous barbs, but Dr Francis says they’re pretty docile and only lash out if they feel threatened.
“As long as people aren’t trying to grab them or jump on them, they should be quite safe.”
Brutus isn’t the only attraction in the area; there are large kingfish and snapper too.
“What we’ve got here is very special and it needs to be looked after by the greater community, and it is fantastic seeing people on holiday coming down and enjoying nature at its best,” says Mr Smith.
The only sting in this fishy tale is the cost. Brutus has a healthy appetite, eating up to 6kg of squid and pilchards a day – at nearly $1000 a month – but Mr Smith reckons he’s worth it.
3 News By Lucy Warhurst