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Eagle Ray
Spotted Eagle Ray
Aetobatus narinari

Eagle rays are large, active, free-swimming rays which are found in most tropical waters. Eagle rays seem to love cruising along the walls and drop-offs in Cayman, travelling singly, in pairs, or even in large groups. They are both graceful and powerful as they travel up and down through the water column. They can rise from the depths below two hundred feet right up to sixty feet along the wall edge and go right back down in just a few seconds. But mostly, they seem to love to just glide along the top of the wall in a seemingly endless reverie.

Eagle rays are wary of divers in general, especially large and noisy groups of divers. However, with a gentle attitude, strong legs and a good pair of fins, divers will occasionally be allowed to approach and even accompany them in their patrols.

Eagle rays are common through out the Caribbean and are certainly common along the North Wall in Grand Cayman; they may also be seen on quiet days along the West Wall as well.

Like other rays, such as the stringray, eagle rays feed on mollusks and crustaceans. Therefore, eagle rays may also be seen sometimes in the sandy shallows throughout Cayman when they go to grub with their flexible snout in the sand bottom for food.

Unlike the stingrays, eagle rays have quite angular pectoral fins as well as a more identifiable head and pronounced snout. However, like the stingrays, eagle rays have heavy dental plates with which they crush their food.

Eagle rays can reach up to 8 feet (2 m) across the wingspan and are said to sometimes leap out of the water like other large rays, such as the manta. An average to large size eagle ray of 5'6" (1.7 m) wingspan can weigh approximately 150 pounds (approx 70 kilos).

Eagle rays generally have long, thin whip-like tails with two to five long spines near the base. It is not uncommon to see eagle rays with drastically shortened tails, perhaps due to just barely avoiding being some shark's dinner.

swimming eagle The pale spots and circles on top can be white or cream color on a dark gray, brown or black background. There is a wide variation among individuals in the size, shape and distribution of the light markings on top. Undersides are white and provide the easiest way of spotting them from the side as they flap their strong pectoral fins in flight.

From underneath, they're shadows in the sun; from above, they blend into the background incredibly well. From any angle, they're magnificent creatures, peaceful and serene in an aquatic paradise.

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Last update: 30 September 1997
Copyright © 1997 Don Backstrom
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