Ecuador’s Spectacular Spotted Eagle Rays
The biodiversity of Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands is well known internationally, particularly among nature lovers, and visitors are never disappointed in a tour of this amazing archipelago. The Galapagos Marine Reserve is listed among the world’s best diving destinations, and for good reason as there are a number of sites for divers to choose from, most of which are suitable for all levels of experience. Marine creatures that divers are likely to see include hammerhead sharks, reef sharks, green sea turtles, sea horses, puffer fish, golden rays, manta rays, sting rays and spotted eagle rays, as well as a wide variety of mollusks and invertebrates.
Considered by the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) to be ‘near threatened’, the spotted eagle ray (Aetobatus narinari) is an impressive sight. With their excellent swimming skills, spotted eagle rays are known to leap clear out of the water as though in flight, before splashing back in again. They typically measure up to 2.5 meters from tip to tip of their wing-like pectoral fins, and up to 5 meters long from the tip of their snouts to the tips of their tails, which feature between 2 and 6 spines. Their undersides are white, with blue-black, white-spotted upper surface.
Spotted eagle rays have strong jaws and specialized tooth structure for crushing the mollusks and crustaceans they feed on. They are known to dig in sand with their snouts in search of food. Females give birth to between four and six live young in a reproductive mode known as ovovivipary, where the young develop within their eggs inside the mother’s body, but are nourished by egg yolk and not via a placenta. When fully developed, they hatch within the mother and are born live, as tiny replicas of the adult. Unfortunately, they are hunted and eaten by sharks, some of which will follow the female ray and eat her pups as they are born.
Spotted eagle rays are found in tropical regions around the world. As they favor shallow waters of coral reefs and bays, divers exploring the waters around the Galapagos stand a good chance of seeing one or more of these fascinating marine animals.