Photos of eagle rays and sting
rays By Floor Anthoni
(All images A%@300dpi unless indicated)
The stingray has earnt its bad reputation from the sharp and often
poisonous sting on its tail. But in the thousands of encounters underwater,
the animal has never threatened me. Here in New Zealand we know three species
of stingray: the short-tailed ray, the long-tailed ray and the eagle ray.
Stingrays have a unique body design, as they fly like birds in the sky.
Stingrays do not have float bladders, so they are not easy to spot by the
sonar of their arch enemy, the orca. Furthermore, they are adept at burrowing
themselves underneath the sand, with only a casual flick of their wings.
Even though they have bad eyesight, stingrays are reasonably intelligent,
as they can grow quite old. The short-tailed ray holds the record, as it
can grow to a wing span of 3.5m, weighing over 500kg. I've once seen such
a monster and I had to back off before I realised what it was.
f021005: eagle rays are New Zealand's smallest stingrays.
They have protruding heads, 'shoulders' and whiplike tails, with a small
fin on top. They mainly eat molluscs, like the robust Cooks turban snail,
but scallops are also welcome. Because of its food preference, the eagle
ray is not common around offshore islands.
f002312: eagle rays seek out Cooks turban shells, and are
even capable of travelling underneath the dense kelp canopy, by folding
their wings upward, and snaking their bodies between the upright stalks.
The shell is taken to a gravelly 'munchy-spot' where it is cracked with
enormous exertion. Divers often find the pearly remains of such meals,
as shown here.
f021001: Eagle ray lightly burrowed under th loose sand,
as it forages.
f021002: closeup of eagle ray shows pronounced head and large
f034909: a light coloured eagle ray moving like a ghost amongst
f034912: this large but light-coloured eagle ray is quite
unusual. We thought it may be moulting its skin.
f005814: Eagle rays and sting rays truly fly in the water,
but in order to do so, the water must flow freely over and under their
wings. So when alarmed, an eagle ray props itself up as if standing on
landing gear. From this position it can take off very quickly.
f041228: The baby eagle ray on left is only a few days old,
yet perfectly capable of looking after itself. In this photo it is dwarfed
by the mature short-tailed stingray (note pointed snout) on right. One
may forgive baby eagle rays for being very shy.
Short-tailed stingray (Dasyatis brevicaudata)
f020511: in Northern Arch (Poor Knights), some 15 years ago,
a couple of stingrays had fun mastering the difficult skill of hang gliding
on the rising current. Others started to imitate, and their numbers gradually
grew to around fifty. Then a pod of orcas massacred some, while scaring
others. Hopefully they will resume this spectacular form of socialising.
bio11: Northern Arch is a gap of 40m deep in a vertical wall
of a promontory. The tidal current pushes itself through the gap, distorting
along the sides and rising upward over the ledge. This allows sting rays,
who don't possess swim bladders, to spread their wings while staying in
one place. It is a form of hang-gliding.
f011933: an albino short-tailed stingray with two barbs,
trails four others, learning how to hang-glide on the currents inside Northern
Arch. (Jan 97)
f020507: sting rays hanging inside Northern Arch. The
shape of this arch can clearly be seen: a narrow slot of 40m deep by 8m
wide. The light patch on top shows the shape of the air space above the
f020532: this unique photo, taken with a 35mm lens and long
time exposure, caught 26 stingrays in their act of hang gliding in Northern
Arch. At this very moment, the tide was turning, and the rays just flap
around a little. (Feb 99)
f021101: When caught in a trawl net, stingrays are fortunate
to stay alive, but at the expense of their tails. Fishermen take no risks
with angry stingrays flailing around on deck.
f021102: this rather large female short-tailed stingray has
survived quite happily without her tail. She must now be over 25 years
old, spanning over 1.5m across her wings.
f029223: short-tailed stingrays usually burrow meticulously,
but apparently they are well aware of some very safe spots where they let
their guards down.
f036124: This very large short-tailed stingray is apparently
unperturbed by the photographer swimming so close by.
f034915: A large short-tailed stingray skimming the kelp
canopy. Why they do this is not certain, but they may just make a low (sonar)
profile for their enemies (orca).
f038733: A male short-tailed stingray showing its belly as
it veers up over a cliff. In front its mouth and nostrils, and above the
middle its gill outlets.
f041736: This male sting ray is hanging a sharp right turn
around a stand of kelp.
f020509: Albino sting rays are not altogether rare. On this
day, two were swimming among 50 normal ones.
f020510: this smaller albino sting ray has three barbs on
Longtailed stingray (Dasyatis thetidis)
f029213: as a snorkeldiver approaches, this female long-tailed
stingray carefully turns herself while lifting her tail in order not to
touch either the diver or the photographer.
f029214: The stingray then tracks back over the photographer
while stroking him over the entire length of her belly. Interest is mutual.
f029221: Long-tailes stingray and freediver.
f034900: This image captures the gracious lines of a long-tailed
f034901: Long-tailed stingray leisurely cruising through
a kelp gully.
f029215: Long tailed sting rays often rest together. Three
can be seen in this picture.
f029217: This long-tailed stingray is truning away from the
photographer as he was just a bit too pushy.
f041508: Stingrays never cease to amaze, partly because of
their shape and size but also for their undeserved reputation. Here a boy
and girl keep their distance from two stingrays huddled together on the
f029208: Sting ray, light and sand.
stingrays have wings? Birds have wings with bones
and muscles inside, and feathers outside. Bats have wings in the form of
a thin skin between their fingers. Flying squirrels have a loose pelt between
arms and legs with which they can glide from tree to tree. Flying fish
have extended breast fins that allow them to soar up to 10m high and some
100 metres along. Aircraft have wings made from aluminium, helicopters
have narrow wings that spin, . . . and so on.
Rays are 'primitive' cartilegeous
(soft-boned) fishes whose bodies have flattened sideways. So their wings
are just part of their flat bodies. But they truly use these for 'flying'
through the water. The eagle ray indeed flies like a bird, effortlessly
and elegantly, travelling considerable distances even for just a meal.
The short-tailed stingray is so strong that it can take off or reverse
with a loud bang caused by cavitation. Cavitation happens when the water
cannot swiftly follow the wing movement, resulting in a vacuum. As the
water catches up, the vacuum collapses with a loud bang. The stingray's
arch enemy, the orca can do so too with its mighty tail.
The short-tailed stingray
is often seen 'fluttering' its wings, rippling their wing tips in a playful
and semi-erratic way.