Great Barrier Reef Region Guide

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Stingrays

Updated: 16-Feb-2007


Stingrays are common on the Great Barrier Reef and are closely related to sharks.

 

Like sharks given an opportunity to flee rather than flight, most will swim away.

Stingrays are however very capable of defending themselves, although only a handful of deaths due to stingrays have ever been recorded and unfortunately our own Steve Irwin the Crocodile Hunter was one of them.

Stingrays are not usually aggressive. They rummage on the sea bottom and only attack if they have been stepped on or threatened.

 

Rays are typically shaped like large flattened discs and have a long tail. There is great variety in position and size of fins in the different species.

Most rays swim by waving the edges of their very wide pectoral fins. This creates an S-shaped wave which moves vertically from head to tail. Although the manta ray weighs up to two tonnes, it moves gracefully in the water waving its enormous wing-like fins.

 

Rays of the Great Barrier Reef:

Blue-spotted fantail ray, Taeniura lymma. This ray is the most commonly seen stingray on the Great Barrier Reef. It moves in schools into shallow, sandy areas during the high tide to feed, and leaves on the low tide to find shelter in caves and under ledges. Divers and swimmers have to be careful not to accidentally kneel or stand on a well-camouflaged blue-spotted fantail ray as it has one or two needle-sharp tail spines coated with poisonous mucus which can cause extreme pain. (About 70 cm in total length)

 

Manta ray, Manta birostris. This ray is distinguishable from other rays by the pair of large protruding flaps in front of the mouth. It feeds on plankton, using the flaps to direct food into its mouth. It has no spines on its whip-like tail. Manta rays are common in Reef waters and, at times, will leap out of the water and fall back with a great splash. Doing this might be to remove parasites from their skin, or it might be a display of territoriality—no one knows for sure. (Grows to at least 7 metres wide and can weigh more than 1300 kg)

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