Smalleye stingrays: how the world’s largest marine stingray reveals long-distance migration

An image of a stingray to illustrate smalleye stingrays
© iStock/EXTREME-PHOTOGRAPHER

Researchers have studied smalleye stingrays in the wild to find out what the largest marine stingray reveals about long-distance migration.

Despite being the world’s largest marine stingray on record, there is not a lot of scientific knowledge about smalleye stingrays. Researchers from the Marine Megafauna Foundation have used photo IDs to study the species, which can reach disc widths of up to 222cm, in southern Mozambique.

Approaching the world’s largest stingray

Atlantine Boggio-Pasqua who volunteered with the Tofo-based foundation, commented: “Through local dive centres, we called on tourists to help us collect images of this solitary stingray. Fortunately for us, southern Mozambique and its rich marine life attract many passionate scuba divers, most of which own GoPros or other lightweight cameras and will happily make their images and footage available for research.”

Boggio-Pasqua added: “Smalleye stingrays may look intimidating at first glance with their large, razor-sharp tail spines, but they’re actually really charismatic and easy to approach. We hope to receive many photo and video contributions from citizen scientists in future. They could tell us more about the species’ habitat preference as well as feeding and cleaning behaviour.”

Long-distance migration

The photographic study gave some insight into the migratory behaviour of the stingray. Some individuals travelled hundreds of kilometres along the coastline, one example being a near-term pregnant stingray which travelled 200km in a minimum of 102 days and a total 400km return trip.

Preventing the decline of smalleye stingrays

Dr Andrea Marshall, the co-founder and principal scientist of the Marine Megafauna Foundation, explained: “We reported the first sightings of smalleye stingray in 2004 and have since been racing against the clock to learn more about their ecology before it is too late.”

“This species of ray is likely in trouble too but we can’t protect what we don’t know much about. Our study is an important first step in understanding more about the animal’s ecology and behaviour.”

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