The endangered species is distinctive for its yellow tint and leopard-like spots.
A marine biologist in Australia came across an incredibly rare recently when she spotted a mesmerizing ornate eagle ray swimming on the Great Barrier Reef. Jacinta Shackleton managed to capture the majestic being gracefully swimming along the ocean floor on camera and share the footage on Instagram, where people were in awe of the ray's distinct leopard-like pattern. According to Newsweek, the eagle ray—Aetomylaeus vespertilio—is a scarce species that conservationists believe is getting rarer with their numbers believed to have halved over the last 45 years. Therefore it has come as a great surprise that two sightings of the ray have been reported in recent times; both just weeks apart near Lady Elliot Island in the Great Barrier Reef.
Posting the video of the ornate eagle ray on Instagram, Shackleton wrote: An endangered Ornate eagle ray soaking up the morning sun today. This was an incredibly special first encounter for me of a very rare species and something I’ll never forget. The current situation has made me aware of just how fortunate I am to have spent so much time immersed in nature. Shackleton, who is also a conservationist, spotted the first of the two rays on March 25 when free diving in the area.
She revealed that she found the encounter very emotional due to the significance of the day. "The island was temporarily closing to guests due to COVID-19 and this was my last morning in the water. So I thought of it as a very special send-off," Shackleton explained. Just weeks later, on April 10, she spotted another eagle ray while free diving with a group. It was late afternoon and Shackleton was just about to return to the island with the rest of her group when she saw the magnificent ray.
Ornate Eagle Ray, rare, endangered. The largest of the 3 rays in the genus. Spotted on Great Barrier Reef during March & April 2020. Powerful, can fly out of the water by several metres. One of the few Rays that lack a spine on its tail #funfacts #funfactfriday #ornateeagleray pic.twitter.com/71X8BEHGIj— Jessica Curry Fine Art (@curry_fine) May 1, 2020
The endangered species is distinctive for its yellow tint and leopard-like spots. "I was very determined to get an ID shot of the pattern in its back," said Shackleton. While the sightings are extremely rare, especially in such a short period, she does not believe seeing two ornate eagle rays in the space of two weeks has anything to do with the current lockdown due to the pandemic. "I do not believe it has anything to do with the island being temporarily closed to guests as we don't have all that many people in the water anyway," she said.
The rare ornate eagle ray is making a splash off @LadyElliotGBR Also called the unicorn of the sea🦄, very little is known about this ray and researchers are excited by not one but two recent sightings https://t.co/0ZUUankCjQ @abcnews @abcbrisbane pic.twitter.com/KgpxoljxI3— Nicole Hegarty (@NicoleTHegarty) May 1, 2020
Shackleton also revealed that there have been at least five sightings of the uncommon species near the island in the past. Conservationists warn that ornate eagle ray populations have declined in recent years due to fishing activity; especially around the Gulf of Thailand. The Atlas of Living Australia has just 17 records of the species in Australian waters between the 1990s and 2019. According to the EDGE of Existence program, although the eagle ray is rare in the wild, the species is "conspicuous" in fish markets and in landings in India.
The largest of the three species in the genus, the ornate eagle ray is an uncommon ray that has not been seen in great numbers since the species was described in 1852. The ornate eagle ray is one of the few eagle ray species without a stinging barb #ornateeagleray #maldives @PADI pic.twitter.com/oG6u3wvcDh— Dive Butler Zen (@divebutlerzen) January 17, 2020
Conservationists do not have a proper record of how many eagle rays are left in the wild. However, it is believed that populations have dropped over half in the span of the past 45 years; a time period that's equivalent to three generations for the species. Unfortunately, there are reportedly no conservation policies in place to protect the species at the moment.