Ornate Eagle Ray Sighted in the Bazaruto Archipelago

While out for a dive in the Bazaruto Archipelago on the 27th of May, the team came across a very rare sighting: an endangered Ornate Eagle Ray (Aetomylaeus vespertilio).

Marine Operations Manager Mauro Jije was conducting a routine research equipment inspection on the Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler (ADCP), recently installed under the auspices of the ReMoTURB project,at a depth of 32 meters, when he suddenly saw something out of the ordinary. The entire diving team, including the Dive Master course trainee Giulia, was privileged to share a few seconds with this majestic animal. Despite not being able to take any good footage, our experienced dive leader was convinced they were observing ornate eagle ray, as the distinct back pattern of the ray enables accurate species identification.

With limited recordings of sightings or landings, it remains difficult to determine the distribution, movements and behaviour of the species. Photo by Emilie Ledwidge via Oceanographic Magazine. 

The ornate eagle ray (A. vespertilio) is so incredibly rare, despite the species’ wide distribution range, records of both live sightings and landings have so far been scarce across the ocean basins. The ray has a body shape very similar to regular eagle rays, however the size of this species is significantly bigger than an average eagle ray. This individual’s width was estimated at 2.4 meter by our marine operations manager, Mauro Jije, who was lucky to have been underwater at exactly that time at place. The back pattern is similar to a human’s fingerprint in the sense that every individual has a different pattern, providing researchers with the opportunity to identify each animal individually.

Illustration by Marc Dando ©, source of information: IUCN Red List,  

”At first I thought it was an ordinary ray, until it approached us, coming closer and closer. It was a flabbergasting experience when I realized what it was, as I had not seen anything like this in all my years of professional diving, yet, I had to dive down to confirm the patterns while it was pacing away from us. What a majestic creature!” – Mauro Jije, Marine Operations Manager at BCSS

Distribution range of the ornate eagle ray (Aetomylaeus vespertilio) (source: IUCN Red List)

Interestingly, the ornate eagle ray passed by our ADCP, which is located on sand, far away from the nearest reef. Given the set-up of the equipment being a metal structure combined with a rope and buoy, our in-house scientists suggest that the ray might have passed because of the temporal ‘‘artificial reef’’ effect and makes them wonder about what other species might circulate in this type of environment, away from coral reefs.

The ADCP is one of the permanent scientific monitoring equipment that has been recently installed in the course of the ReMoTURB project implementation. A permanently moored ADCP sensor provides information regarding current profiles, such as speed and direction. Analysing these data in a long term gives scientists an opportunity to understand water upwelling and heatwave events better, which can be tied to global environmental fluctuations responsible for the climate change, affecting wildlife habitats. This information also aids to shed light on how marine life interacts and adapts to these changes. See the video below to see the ADCP up close, surrounded by fish.

The BCSS Diving Centre’s continuous diving activities and expeditions in the open ocean presents the opportunity to encounter more (unexpected) marine life, and to collect more recordings. We are currently developing diving packages for those who wish to visit the BCSS station and experience the Bazaruto Archipelago underwater. For more information and to secure your spot at the launch, contact us.

For questions about this article, please contact:
Iris Uijttewaal, Bazaruto Center for Scientific Studies

Bazaruto Center for Scientific Studies
Host of the first permanent Ocean Observatory focused on multi-ecosystem time series research in Africa, the Bazaruto Center for Scientific Studies (BCSS) was established in 2017 as in independent, non-profit organisation with a mission to protect and support the fragile ecosystems of the Bazaruto Archipelago, Mozambique. The research station is located on Benguerra Island, off the coast of Mozambique.

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