Spotted Eagle Rays
Spotted Eagle Rays: Aetobatus narinari
Spotted eagle rays are found worldwide in tropical waters, most commonly in shallow inshore waters, around reefs or even in estuaries. In the U.S., they appear in North Carolina in summer months and off Florida year-round. There are large concentrations near Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.
The spotted eagle ray is most easily recognized by white spots on its black or bluish back (the ray’s main body is called the disc), and the underside is creamy or white. It has a long rounded snout, slightly upturned like a duck’s bill. Its jaws are lined with a single row of flat teeth joined to a band inside the mouth. Like sharks, they are not bony in the traditional sense but are supported by cartilage. The long spine at the base of its whip-like tail can inflict a painful wound. The spotted eagle ray can grow to nearly nine feet (3m) from wingtip to wingtip, although in an aquarium they are more likely to grow to about six feet (2m).
Currently the collection is being fed a mixture of squid, shrimp, scallop, fish filet, and herring. They will also be offered clams, blue mussels, and oysters as enrichment and to maintain the help and function of their jaws and teeth. Each eagle ray is fed much more than the other rays in our permanent Aquarium collection because their high rate of metabolism. These rays are grazers like the cownose ray and will lose weight very quickly if not fed regularly and to the correct amount to maintain weight. Currently they are fed twice a day by hand.
Virginia Aquarium Eagle Rays
The Virginia Aquarium’s spotted eagle rays were collected from the waters off Boot Key Harbor in the Florida Keys in spring of 2008. According to the 2009 American Elasmobranch Society’s “National Captive Elasmobranch Census,” Virginia Aquarium is one of only seven facilities in the continental U.S. to have spotted eagle rays in their permanent collections. The Virginia Aquarium has the third largest population of spotted eagle rays reported in that recent national census. The rays were given calls or “names” to identify them for record keeping purposes. These rays were “called” after islands and bodies of water near or around the Red Sea: Muskali, Musha, Kamaran and Sadana, all females; and males Oman and Aden.
The spotted eagle ray is classified as Near Threatened by the IUCN, an international conservation body. It is accidentally caught in bottom trawls (bycatch) and there is also some take by game fishers.