Tag Archives: Eagle Rays

Eagle ray juvenile

On a recent snorkeling expedition I was lucky to notice this eagle ray sliding by below in some hazy water. It’s the smallest eagle ray I’ve seen, with a wingspan of about a foot-and-a-half. Adults can have a wingspan of up to ten feet though the ones I see are mostly in the five to six feet range.

One nice thing to see was that this little ray was in perfect condition with nary a mark on it. Some of the bigger ones look like they have been in the wars.

Curious spotted eagle ray

I have a tendency, when out snorkeling, to revisit places where I’ve seen something interesting. So if I’ve seen a frogfish, a shark, or gargantuan blenny in a particular place, I go back there to see if it’s still there. Bear in mind that these are creatures that extremely mobile and move around a good deal.

And yet, there’s method in this madness. Many fish are territorial and so do occupy a very limited area which they defend with great vigor. Others might be more transient, but tend to feed in certain areas.

Spotted eagle rays fall into this latter category. They can cover large distances, but tend to feed on sandy bottoms, shoveling the sand with their bills to uncover the marine invertebrates that they feed on.

This eagle ray was dong just that, cruising low over the sand, pausing occasionally dig for potential prey. But after a long spell of this activity, it rose in the water, cruised around, and made a close pass, clearly checking me out. It did this a couple of times before heading back down and in toward the shore in search of food.

I don’t think there was any reason for this behavior other than a curiosity to see what this ungainly creature was that was following it. And it’s not alone in this behavior. Manta rays also do this along with dolphins, sharks, and a fair number of smaller fish. They’re curious about us; we’re curious about them. This is what makes getting in the water fun.

A senior spotted eagle ray

This spotted eagle ray is a regular visitor to one of the spots where I go snorkeling. It’s not the largest one I’ve seen but it is certainly bulky and has the biggest head I’ve ever seen on an eagle ray. It looks like an older ray which has been in the wars, with a number of scars and bits missing here and there.

The top photo shows the eagle ray headed my way. It curled up over the rocks and coral and then veered around and headed back out to deeper water. The middle photo gives a good view of the head as the ray prepares to use its large, duck-billed nose to dig into the sand in search of molluscs and other organisms that they feed on. The photo below shows the ray cruising a little way above the sea floor.

Eagle ray and marine debris

An ongoing problem, both here in Hawaii and in all the oceans of the world, is marine debris. There are floating garbage patches of such a size that nations will surely soon be fighting over whose territory they are. There’s debris washed up onto beaches that is both unsightly and dangerous. And then there’s discarded or lost items that are a danger to marine creatures everywhere.

Sadly, I saw one such example recently. I hadn’t seen an eagle ray in a while, so I was excited to see this one. But it’s progress seemed a bit odd and I quickly realized that it was, unwillingly, towing some kind of marine debris. It looked like an old net or something similar, on the end of a loop of line that had become hooked over the beak of the ray.

In the top photo, the clump of debris can be seen on the right, above the black triggerfish swimming in the opposite direction. The loop of line can also be seen. In the second photo, the line can be seen looped over the bill of the ray. I shared this photo with several people, alerting them to the situation, and some thought the line was caught in the ray’s mouth, but I don’t think that’s the case, though it has clearly dug a furrow into the face of the ray.

While I spread the word about this, there’s not a lot that can be done. I didn’t see the ray again and, to my knowledge, no one else has either. Even if they do, the chances of being able to approach the ray and free the line are slim. The debris is probably part of some fishing gear, which is lost in great abundance around here.

Hopefully, the ray will find some way to dislodge its unwanted haul, but while that could happen, it’s also possible that the ray is stuck with its burden. And, in the end, that might tip the balance in its chances of survival.

Four spotted eagle rays in the waters off the Big Island of Hawaii

The eagle rays are circling

Four spotted eagle rays in the waters off the Big Island of Hawaii

It’s not often that Shakespeare comes to mind with my photos, but with this one I think of the caption, “When shall we three meet again … hey, wait a minute.” The last bit might not be Shakespeare, an early draft perhaps.

These four spotted eagle rays were puttering about in clear, shallow water so I got a decent photo without getting wet.

A spotted eagle ray swimming off the Big Island.

Spotted eagle ray

A spotted eagle ray swimming off the Big Island.A spotted eagle ray swimming off the Big Island.

During the summer months, the west coast of the Big Island sees more southwest or westerly swells. These tend to roil the waters and reduce visibility. So it was a pleasant surprise recently, to dip into the water and find good visibility for the first time in a while.

The good visibility wasn’t matched by the appearance of rarely seen, exotic fish. Only the ‘usual suspects’ were to be found, which is no bad thing. I enjoy watching even the most common of fish. However, I confess I was feeling a tad disappointed at having my camera and good conditions, but not seeing anything that especially fired my enthusiasm.

As if on cue, I looked up to see three spotted eagle rays coming toward me. One quickly slipped away and a second came and went. The third (photo at right) cruised back and forth nearby, keeping an eye on me as I kept an eye on it. It had clearly lost its tail at some point. I’m not sure if a new one will grow back. In the bottom photo, the venomous spines at the base of the tail can be seen, though the venom is not nearly as toxic as that of some ocean dwellers.

After a while, the two remaining rays headed out toward deeper water and disappeared taking with them any disappointment I’d been feeling.

For more information about eagle rays, go to bioweb.uwlax.edu/bio203/s2014/hayward_paig/index.htm
A spotted eagle ray swimming off the Big Island.

Spotted eagle ray


I’ve seen this particular ray several times while snorkeling. I think it’s a young one, since it’s somewhat smaller than others I’ve seen. It glides over the coral with little effort, but sometimes shifts into high gear and shoots off with a good turn of speed. It’s not aggressive and doesn’t appear bothered by my presence, but since eagle rays have venomous spines near the base of the tail, I don’t get too close.

For more information about eagle rays, go to sailhawaii.com/rays.html.