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The spotted eagle ray — an island favorite

Of the many fascinating marine species we encounter frequently on Adventure Island in Belize, perhaps the most exotic and majestic is the spotted eagle ray.

The dorsal spots make the spotted eagle ray a big attraction, although because of their shyness, interaction with humans isn’t common. Nevertheless, there have been the rare incident reported of spotted eagle rays leaping out of the water onto boats and landing on people(!)

Eagle rays are a cherished sighting for snorkelers and divers because of their large size and graceful, “flying” motion through the water.

Spotted eagle rays have flat disk-shaped bodies, deep blue or black with white spots on top with a white underbelly, and distinctive flat snouts similar to a duck’s bill.

Their tails are longer than those of other rays. The front half of the long and wing-like pectoral disk has five small gills in its underside. Mature spotted eagle rays can be up to 5 meters (16 ft) in length; the largest have a wingspan of up to 3 meters (10 ft) and a mass of 230 kilograms (507 lb).

The spotted eagleray, a cartilaginous fish of the eagle ray family, Myliobatidae, can be identified by its dark ventral surface covered in white spots or rings. Near the base of the ray’s relatively long tail, just behind the pelvic fins, are several barbed stingers.

Spotted eagle rays commonly feed on small fish and crustaceans, and will sometimes dig with their snouts to look for food buried in the sand of the sea bed. These rays are commonly observed leaping out of the water. The spotted eagle ray is hunted by a wide variety of sharks. The rays are considered Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List.