Scientists film the first ever live encounter of the rare and Endangered Ornate Eagle Ray in the Philippines

January 5 2018, CAGAYANCILLIO, PALAWAN, An encounter with the rare and Endangered Ornate Eagle Ray by researchers from LAMAVE and WWF on an expedition to Cagayancillio, has been reported as the first ever live encounter with the species in Philippine waters, expanding its current known range.

The Ornate Eagle ray (Aetomylaeus vespertilio), is distinguished from other Eagle Ray species by its unique dorsal pattern of dark stripes and reticulated spots (see video below). The species’ current known range exists from reports from, but not limited to: Mozambique, the Maldives, Indonesia, Taiwan and Northern Australia. Previous to this encounter, no live sighting of the species was reported in the Philippines, although one record of the species existed from a fish market in Cebu City, Philippines, though it is not certain where the animal was caught. Since reporting, a second specimen was shared online through Marine Wildlife Watch of the Philippines from a caught specimen in Camarines Norte in 2010.

The ray was female, likely mature, with a disk width of approx. 2 meters and a total length (body and tail) of 4 meters. The team encountered her in April 2017 during a shark and ray research expedition organized by WWF-Philippines to Cagayancillio, a remote archipelago, in the north-eastern Sulu Sea, Philippines. The municipality of Cagayancillio, which lies 150 km north of Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park, was declared the largest MPA in the Philippines in September 2016, covering an estimated 1M ha. The occurrence of the species in one of the country’s largest marine protected areas is incredibly exciting, however, most importantly, it highlights the need to increase our understanding of the ecology and movements of such rare and elusive species to ensure effective spatial zoning and boundaries are established within marine protected areas. The vulnerability of the species to a variety of fishing methods coupled with estimated population declines of 50%, means it is currently listed as Endangered in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. For the Philippines, sightings of rare and elusive species such as the Ornate Eagle Ray, further accentuates the rich marine biodiversity of the country, giving yet another reason to protect it.

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