On 24 August 2017, S.E.A. Aquarium welcomed a male Ornate Eagle Ray (Aetomylaeus vespertilio), and the first of its kind to be featured in zoos and aquariums worldwide. It arrived from Cairns Marine, a WAZA-accredited supplier which provides fish, corals and ongoing care to aquariums around the world.
One of the rarest rays in the world, the Ornate Eagle Ray is found in the shallow waters of the Indo-West Pacific. The shy sea creature is known for its ornate pattern of lines and reticulations on the upper surface of its disc, which contrasts with its white underside.
This particular ray at S.E.A. Aquarium, currently a juvenile, has a 1.2m wingspan and weighs 15kg. It can potentially grow up to 5m long (including its whip-like tail) with a wingspan of up to 2.4m.
No stinging barb
The ray’s whip-like tail can grow longer than its wingspan. Unlike most rays which have a stinging barb on their tail, the Ornate Eagle Ray is not equipped with one. However, it has extremely hard teeth which it uses to crush through the shells of prey such as sea snails, mussels and crustaceans.
Endangered due to bycatch
The Ornate Eagle Ray is currently listed as “endangered” in the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species, due to its low fecundity (reproduction rate) and incidents of bycatch. It is highly susceptible to various inshore demersal fisheries, including trawls, gillnets and trammel nets which operate intensively throughout its range, such as India, Thailand, Taiwan, and Indonesia.
Plans for world’s first conservation breeding programme
Little is known about the elusive Ornate Eagle Ray today, but S.E.A. Aquarium plans to study the ray to broaden our scientific knowledge, understanding, and support the conservation of this rare species.
In the long run, we hope to collaborate with reputable institutions to introduce females to our male ray to kickstart the world’s first conservation breeding programme for this species under human care.
Here’s a clip of the Ornate Eagle Ray, as well as four other species which are new to S.E.A. Aquarium:
Be sure to keep an eye out for the Ornate Eagle Ray the next time you’re at our Shipwreck Habitat.