Southeast
Breanna DeGroot, M.S., lead author, a research technician and former graduate student working with Matt Ajemian, Ph.D., co-author and an assistant research professor at FAU’s Harbor Branch. Florida Atlantic University's Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute

FL - Biotelemetry Provides Unique Glimpse into Whitespotted Eagle Rays’ Behavior

Study by FAU Harbor Branch Scientists First to Characterize Ecology of this ‘Near Threatened’ Species in Florida

Newswise — The whitespotted eagle ray (Aetobatus narinari), found in estuaries and lagoons throughout Florida, is listed as “near threatened” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s “Red List of Threatened Species.” Keeping tabs on this highly mobile species for conservation efforts can be extremely challenging, especially for extended periods of time.

Researchers from Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute used uniquely coded transmitters and acoustic telemetry to give them a leading edge to unravel fine-scale movement, behavior, and habitat use of whitespotted eagle rays in Florida’s Indian River Lagoon.  Biotelemetry provided the researchers with unique insights into this species’ occupancy, which is not apparent at the landscape-scale.

Despite being a state-protected species in Florida for more than two decades, this study is the first to characterize the ecology and fine-scale habitat use of whitespotted rays in Florida while also identifying areas of potential interactions between this species and multiple environmental threats. For the study, researchers followed seven mature individuals (six males and one female) and individually tracked them for a total of 119.6 hours. They used a tracking vessel to continuously and manually track the rays between June 2017 and August 2018.

Results of the study, published in the journal Endangered Species Research, show that rays use the deeper portions of the Indian River Lagoon, along Florida’s southeast coast, during the day and shallower portions during the night. In addition, they move faster while in the ocean and lagoonal habitats and slower in channels and inlets. This information suggests that whitespotted eagle rays may spend more time foraging at night in the shallow water of the lagoon than during the daytime.

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