Cayman: DoE divers come across Spotted Eagle Rays in formation
Image credit: DoE
Cayman Islands Department of the Environment scientists were recently monitoring the threat of Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease at Max’s Garden, just east of Rum Point Channel Grand Cayman when they saw these six beautiful Spotted eagle rays flying in formation.
Spotted eagle rays, known scientifically as Aetobatus narinari, are considered to be among the most beautiful of all the stingrays. They flap their large wings in the most graceful and majestic fashion, gliding effortlessly through the water.
Growing up to almost 10 feet across, a close encounter with an eagle ray is not easily forgotten.
Although they are usually seen alone, or in pairs, eagle rays are social animals and will occasionally congregate in groups of a few dozen or more. During non-breeding season, they can form large schools. That said, it is very rare to see them in formation as in the image above, shared by the Cayman Islands Department of the Environment.
Spotted eagle rays are commonly found in shallow inshore waters such as bays and coral reefs but may cross oceanic basins. They swim close to the surface, occasionally leaping out of the water, or close to the bottom. The spotted eagle ray is distributed worldwide in tropical, coastal waters.
Very little is known about the biology of these magnificent creatures, to the extent that it is not completely clear exactly how many species of eagle ray occur throughout the world’s oceans. Few studies have reported on the populations and migrations of spotted eagle rays in the Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea.
The animals are considered to be ‘near threatened’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species, with a decreasing population trend. Experts classify spotted eagle rays as ‘near threatened’ because of their rarity and low reproductive potential.
According to a 2017 article in journal, Environmental Biology of Fishes, the species is heavily fished in nearby waters of the southern Gulf of Mexico and in Cuba.
Photographic identification techniques were used to produce the first photo-ID catalog of spotted eagle rays in the Mexican Caribbean using 1096 photographs submitted by researchers and divers between 2003 and 2016. In total, 282 individual spotted eagle rays were identified through photographs at nine sites across the Mexican Caribbean.
Spotted eagle rays are not otherwise directly typically targeted by commercial fisheries but are sometimes accidentally caught alongside targeted species as bycatch.