One of the most elusive creatures of the sea, the wild smalleye stingray, has been tagged by scientists for the first time, opening the door not only to future research into the giant stingray population but the mysteries of the ocean as a whole.
Despite its name, the smalleye is actually the world’s largest marine stingray. While the common stingray can reach an impressive size of 4 feet in width and 8 feet in length, smalleyes are even bigger. The gargantuan fish easily reaches 7 feet across and 10 feet long.
If that wasn’t intimidating enough, consider this. The stinging spine of a smalleye is approximately the length of a human forearm. Keep in mind that the stinging spine is merely a small section of the tail, not the tail itself. Luckily, however, they’re not known for their aggression.
Stingrays are shy, gentle creatures, reserving their stingers for attacking predators, such as sharks and other large carnivores. Now, human stings do happen. However, they’re exclusively the result of mistaken identity or direct threats, such as a step accidentally connecting with their back.
This is great news for ray expert Andrea Marshall, who took a small skin sample from a smalleye stingray’s massive underside without incident. Sure, she was using a six-foot-long pole to do so. But the smalleye was long enough to reach her with its deadly stinger anyway, should it have felt threatened. Any wrong move “would put us in mortal danger,” Marshall explained to National Geographic.
With a successful approach behind her, scientists went to work tracking more smalleyes along the Mozambican coast. In total, they were able to attach location tags to 11 individuals.
Preliminary Research Reveals Fascinating Information About the Giant Stingray
Obviously, research into the giant smalleye stingray is still in its infancy. That said, scientists have already made some truly fascinating discoveries about the herculean sea creature.
Because of its small population size and elusive nature, for instance, their habits and even habitats have largely remained a mystery. The satellite and acoustic tags the 11 smalleye now carry, however, allow scientists to gather information on their long-distance travel and fine-scale movements.
Thanks to this technology, we now know that, though the smalleye generally hovers over reefs at a depth of 50-80 feet, they’re capable of diving over 650 feet into the fathomless deep. Additionally, the king-sized stingray can swim hundreds of miles in a single day!
This regular long-distance travel means the giant stingray possesses the longest known straight-line migration of any whiptail stingray, a family made up of at least 60 species.
One individual’s lengthy stretches of time spent in the deep ocean could also explain their “ridiculously small eyes,” Marshall explained. Fish that spend large amounts of time below a hundred feet don’t require excellent eyesight. In the complete darkness of the deep ocean, perfect eyesight isn’t exactly a useful trait.
Using these tags, scientists can continue to learn more about the mysterious smalleye stingray, a thrilling prospect to biologists and marine life enthusiasts everywhere. “Because we know so little about the species, everything’s going to be exciting,” said biologist Joni Pini-Fitzsimmons.