Its muscular body shape and large pectoral fins are perfect for long-distance travel, yet movement patterns of the whitespotted eagle ray (Aetobatus narinari) remain a mystery. Researchers from Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute in collaboration with Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium, the University of Florida and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, are the first to conduct a multiyear study examining large-scale movements of whitespotted eagle rays in United States waters.
Between 2016 and 2018, scientists fitted 54 rays with acoustic transmitters and tracked them using collaborative acoustic telemetry networks. The rays were tagged along both the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic coasts of Florida, which differ in environmental characteristics. Scientists compared rays’ movement patterns between the Atlantic and Gulf coasts and gathered data on migratory routes, seasonality and habitat use. Their findings suggest that potential sub-population structuring may be occurring within Florida more than previously thought and have significant conservation and adaptive management implications for this protected species. MORE
Header image: Breanna DeGroot, M.S., and Matt Ajemian, Ph.D., FAU Harbor Branch, pictured with a whitespotted eagle ray. Credit: Kim Bassos-Hull.