Photos of eagle rays and sting rays
By Floor Anthoni
(All images A%@300dpi unless indicated)
The stingray has earnt its bad reputation from the sharp and often poisonous sting on its tail. But in the thousands of encounters underwater, the animal has never threatened me. Here in New Zealand we know three species of stingray: the short-tailed ray, the long-tailed ray and the eagle ray. Stingrays have a unique body design, as they fly like birds in the sky. Stingrays do not have float bladders, so they are not easy to spot by the sonar of their arch enemy, the orca. Furthermore, they are adept at burrowing themselves underneath the sand, with only a casual flick of their wings. Even though they have bad eyesight, stingrays are reasonably intelligent, as they can grow quite old. The short-tailed ray holds the record, as it can grow to a wing span of 3.5m, weighing over 500kg. I've once seen such a monster and I had to back off before I realised what it was.
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Keywords: NZ, New Zealand, rays, sting rays, eagle ray, short tailed, long tailed, 
Visit more about sting rays and diver experiences in our Poor knights chapter.

Eagle Ray (Myliobatis tenuicaudatus)

Eagle Ray (Myliobatis tenuicaudatus)
f021005: eagle rays are New Zealand's smallest stingrays. They have protruding heads, 'shoulders' and whiplike tails, with a small fin on top. They mainly eat molluscs, like the robust Cooks turban snail, but scallops are also welcome. Because of its food preference, the eagle ray is not common around offshore islands.
feeding spot of Eagle Ray (Myliobatis tenuicaudatus)
f002312: eagle rays seek out Cooks turban shells, and are even capable of travelling underneath the dense kelp canopy, by folding their wings upward, and snaking their bodies between the upright stalks. The shell is taken to a gravelly 'munchy-spot' where it is cracked with enormous exertion. Divers often find the pearly remains of such meals, as shown here.
Eagle ray, burrowed
f021001: Eagle ray lightly burrowed under th loose sand, as it forages.
closeup of eagle ray
f021002: closeup of eagle ray shows pronounced head and large eyes.

light coloured eagle ray
f034909: a light coloured eagle ray moving like a ghost amongst the foliage.
light coloured eagle ray. Moulting?
f034912: this large but light-coloured eagle ray is quite unusual. We thought it may be moulting its skin.

eagle ray ready to take off
f005814: Eagle rays and sting rays truly fly in the water, but in order to do so, the water must flow freely over and under their wings. So when alarmed, an eagle ray props itself up as if standing on landing gear. From this position it can take off very quickly.
just born baby eagle ray dwarfed by mature long-tailed stingray
f041228: The baby eagle ray on left is only a few days old, yet perfectly capable of looking after itself. In this photo it is dwarfed by the mature short-tailed stingray (note pointed snout) on right. One may forgive baby eagle rays for being very shy.


Short-tailed stingray (Dasyatis brevicaudata)

a socialising school of Short-tailed stingray (Dasyatis brevicaudata)
f020511: in Northern Arch (Poor Knights), some 15 years ago, a couple of stingrays had fun mastering the difficult skill of hang gliding on the rising current. Others started to imitate, and their numbers gradually grew to around fifty. Then a pod of orcas massacred some, while scaring others. Hopefully they will resume this spectacular form of socialising.
hang gliding Short-tailed stingray (Dasyatis brevicaudata)
bio11: Northern Arch is a gap of 40m deep in a vertical wall of a promontory. The tidal current pushes itself through the gap, distorting along the sides and rising upward over the ledge. This allows sting rays, who don't possess swim bladders, to spread their wings while staying in one place. It is a form of hang-gliding.

short tailed stingrays at the Poor Knights
f011933: an albino short-tailed stingray with two barbs, trails four others, learning how to hang-glide on the currents inside Northern Arch. (Jan 97)
short tailed stingrays at the Poor Knights
f020507: sting rays hanging inside Northern Arch. The shape of this arch can clearly be seen: a narrow slot of 40m deep by 8m wide. The light patch on top shows the shape of the air space above the water.
short tailed stingrays at the Poor Knights
f020532: this unique photo, taken with a 35mm lens and long time exposure, caught 26 stingrays in their act of hang gliding in Northern Arch. At this very moment, the tide was turning, and the rays just flap around a little. (Feb 99)

Large short-tailed stingray, its tail cut off
f021101: When caught in a trawl net, stingrays are fortunate to stay alive, but at the expense of their tails. Fishermen take no risks with angry stingrays flailing around on deck.
Large female short-tailed stingray without tail
f021102: this rather large female short-tailed stingray has survived quite happily without her tail. She must now be over 25 years old, spanning over 1.5m across her wings.

Shorttailed sting ray does not bother to burrow
f029223: short-tailed stingrays usually burrow meticulously, but apparently they are well aware of some very safe spots where they let their guards down.
closeup of large short-tailed stingray
f036124: This very large short-tailed stingray is apparently unperturbed by the photographer swimming so close by.

Short-tailed stingray skimming the kelp canopy
f034915: A large short-tailed stingray skimming the kelp canopy. Why they do this is not certain, but they may just make a low (sonar) profile for their enemies (orca).
A short-tailed stingray showing its belly
f038733: A male short-tailed stingray showing its belly as it veers up over a cliff. In front its mouth and nostrils, and above the middle its gill outlets.

A male stingray hagns a sharp right turn
f041736: This male sting ray is hanging a sharp right turn around a stand of kelp.
Albino short tailed stingray
f020509: Albino sting rays are not altogether rare. On this day, two were swimming among 50 normal ones.
Albino stingray has three stings
f020510: this smaller albino sting ray has three barbs on its tail.


Longtailed stingray (Dasyatis thetidis)

Longtailed stingray (Dasyatis thetidis)
f029213: as a snorkeldiver approaches, this female long-tailed stingray carefully turns herself while lifting her tail in order not to touch either the diver or the photographer.
The stingray skirts over the photographer
f029214: The stingray then tracks back over the photographer while stroking him over the entire length of her belly. Interest is mutual.
Long-tailed stingray and freediver
f029221: Long-tailes stingray and freediver.
Long tailed sting ray
f034900: This image captures the gracious lines of a long-tailed stingray.

Long-tailed stingray
f034901: Long-tailed stingray leisurely cruising through a kelp gully.
Longtailed stingrays often rest together
f029215: Long tailed sting rays often rest together. Three can be seen in this picture.

Long-tailed stingray turning
f029217: This long-tailed stingray is truning away from the photographer as he was just a bit too pushy.
A boy and a girl in awe
f041508: Stingrays never cease to amaze, partly because of their shape and size but also for their undeserved reputation. Here a boy and girl keep their distance from two stingrays huddled together on the sand.

Stingray, sand and light
f029208: Sting ray, light and sand.

Do stingrays have wings?
Birds have wings with bones and muscles inside, and feathers outside. Bats have wings in the form of a thin skin between their fingers. Flying squirrels have a loose pelt between arms and legs with which they can glide from tree to tree. Flying fish have extended breast fins that allow them to soar up to 10m high and some 100 metres along. Aircraft have wings made from aluminium, helicopters have narrow wings that spin,  . . . and so on.
Rays are 'primitive' cartilegeous (soft-boned) fishes whose bodies have flattened sideways. So their wings are just part of their flat bodies. But they truly use these for 'flying' through the water. The eagle ray indeed flies like a bird, effortlessly and elegantly, travelling considerable distances even for just a meal. The short-tailed stingray is so strong that it can take off or reverse with a loud bang caused by cavitation. Cavitation happens when the water cannot swiftly follow the wing movement, resulting in a vacuum. As the water catches up, the vacuum collapses with a loud bang. The stingray's arch enemy, the orca can do so too with its mighty tail.
The short-tailed stingray is often seen 'fluttering' its wings, rippling their wing tips in a playful and semi-erratic way.

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