We just had the most amazing week of diving Grand Cayman‘s north wall. Quite often in the spring and summer months, we see a lot of eagle rays. Last week we saw as many as 20 on one dive and groups of 6-8 on most other dives!
A group of beautiful eagle rays on Lemon wall
The eagle ray is one of our favorite cayman diving creatures. So much so, when we designed our logo, we knew it could only be one critter- the eagle ray. When we lived on Cayman Brac we would see them everyday inside the protected lagoon where we kept our boats. Quite often they would fly out of the water- this is a sight to see and we always thought it was a sign of great luck and good karma.
Generally a shy species, spotted eagle rays are wary of divers and are usually difficult to approach. When they are cruising along the north wall, they gently glide past us and don’t seem too bothered by divers. As one of the most beautiful rays, the spotted eagle ray has a dramatic spotted pattern across the dorsal side of the body. The small white, bluish-white, greenish, pearly, or yellow spots are distinct against the black, dark gray, or brown body color. A variation on this pattern includes larger white rings each with a black center, and these rings sometimes join to form lines and circles. The spotted eagle ray reaches a maximum length of 8.2 feet (2.5 m) not including the tail, with the total length including an unbroken tail reaching close to 16.4 feet (5 m) with a maximum published weight is 507 pounds (230 kg). Now, that’s a BIG eagle ray!!
Up close and personal with a spotted eagle ray
The spotted eagle ray is commonly observed in bays and over coral reefs as well as the occasional foray into estuarine habitats. Although it occurs in inshore waters to depths of approximately 200 feet (60 m), the spotted eagle ray spends most of its time swimming in schools in open water. In open waters, spotted eagle rays often form large schools and swim close to the surface. It is known to swim long distances across open waters as evidenced by its presence in Bermuda. This species is capable of leaping completely out of the water when pursued. It swims by “flying” gracefully through the water via the undulation of the pectoral fins.
Mating behavior often includes the pursuit of a female by one or more males. These males grab her dorsum with their upper tooth plate. Spotted eagle rays are ovoviviparous meaning the eggs develop inside the body and hatch within the mother. Up to 4 pups are born in each litter, each measuring 6.7-13.8 inches (17-35 cm). We think they mate in the spring and summer months and this may be the reason we get to see so many this time of year.
Clams, oysters, shrimp, octopus, squid and sea urchins as well as bony fishes provide prey for the spotted eagle ray. This ray is well adapted with its shovel-shaped snout and duck-like bill for searching in the sand for invertebrates. Their main predators are sharks. Sharks, including reef sharks and hammerheads have also been reported to follow spotted eagle rays during the birthing season, feeding on newborn pups.
Their conservation status is considered as “Near Threatened” by the World Conservation Union (IUCN). We feel very lucky to see so many here.
So, come and enjoy some Grand Cayman Scuba Diving today and see of you can find some spotted eagle rays!
Gary is a PADI Master Instructor and an RYA 200 ton Off Shore. Having worked all over the world as a dive instructor and boat captain. He has spent the last 20 year based in the Cayman Islands. Together with his wife Liz they have built the number one scuba diving operation in the Caribbean.