Environmental Biology of Fishes

, Volume 97, Issue 9, pp 1039–1056 | Cite as

Life history and seasonal occurrence of the spotted eagle ray, Aetobatus narinari, in the eastern Gulf of Mexico

  • Kim Bassos-Hull
  • Krystan A. Wilkinson
  • Peter T. Hull
  • Dean A. Dougherty
  • Kristen L. Omori
  • Lisa E. Ailloud
  • John J. Morris
  • Robert E. Hueter


The spotted eagle ray, Aetobatus narinari, is listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as Near Threatened with a decreasing population trend, but many aspects of this ray’s biology and population status are unknown. Aerial and on-water surveys were conducted in the eastern Gulf of Mexico off southwest Florida 2008–2013, to document seasonal occurrence and life history characteristics of this species. Aerial surveys documented spotted eagle rays mostly in spring, summer, and autumn months with larger aggregations observed near inlet passes. Boat-based surveys documented rays on 152 out of 176 survey days, mostly as solitary individuals but sometimes in aggregations of up to 60. More rays were observed when water temperatures were 23-31 ºC. A total of 393 rays (231 males, 161 females, 1 unrecorded sex) were captured, measured, sampled, tagged, and released. Sizes ranged 41.4–203.0 cm disc width (DW) and weight 1.1–105.5 kg. Male size at 50 % maturity was 127 cm DW. Five percent (19) of tagged rays were recaptured after 5–1,293 days at liberty and recaptured rays exhibited faster growth than previously estimated from vertebral readings. Based on observations of rays relative to survey effort, numbers of observed rays declined after 2009 for reasons not yet understood. This observation, together with concerns about sustainability of fisheries targeting these rays in nearby Mexico and Cuba, underscore the need for investigations into stock structure, population trends, growth, and critical habitat of spotted eagle rays throughout the Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean Sea, and elsewhere in their range.


Elasmobranch Batoid Age and growth Sexual maturity Tagging Mark-recapture Aerial survey 



Our gratitude is extended to the Spotted Eagle Ray Conservation Program team of Mote staff, interns and collaborators, especially Capts. Greg Byrd and Charles (Chuck) Jelicks, Adam Lytton, Anna Sellas, Jen Newby, and Ashley Ross. We thank Jim Culter for his help with habitat and molluscan diversity in the eastern Gulf of Mexico and Henry Luciano for environmental temperature data. We also thank John Tyminski, Rachel Dryer and two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments and constructive suggestions for improving the manuscript. We are grateful to William E. Pine III, University of Florida, for reviewing our methods and results for catch-per-unit-effort data and offering suggestions for graphic display of such data. Funding and in-kind support for this project were provided by the National Aquarium in Baltimore, Georgia Aquarium, Disney Worldwide Conservation Foundation, Save Our Seas Foundation, Mote Scientific Foundation, LightHawk, PADI Foundation, and anonymous donors. This study was conducted in accordance with Florida state laws and regulations for work on protected marine species (FWC SAL-13-1140-SRP) and IACUC protocols approved by Mote Marine Laboratory (Approval #13-02-PH1).


  1. Abbott TR (1974) American seashells. Van’Nostrand Reinhold Company, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  2. Adams AJ, Hill JE, Kurth BN, Barbour AB (2012) Effects of a severe cold event on the subtropical, estuarine-dependent common snook, Centropomus undecimalis. Gulf Caribb Res 24:13–21Google Scholar
  3. Ajemian MJ, Powers SP, Murdoch TJT (2012) Estimating the potential impacts of large mesopredators on benthic resources: integrative assessment of spotted eagle ray foraging ecology in Bermuda. PLoS One. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0040227 PubMedCentralPubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. Akaike H (1973) Information theory and an extension of the maximum likelihood principle. In: Petrova BN, Csaki F (eds) Proceedings of the 2nd international symposium on information theory. Publishing house of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Budapest, pp 268–281Google Scholar
  5. Bigelow HG, Schroeder WC (1953) Sawfishes, guitarfishes, skates, and rays. In: Tee-Van J (ed) Fishes of the western North Atlantic. Mem. Sears Found. Mar. Res. Yale University, New Haven, pp 464–465Google Scholar
  6. Campagna C, Short FT, Polidoro BA, McManus R, Collette BB, Pilcher NJ, Sadovy de Mitcheson Y, Stuart SN, Carpenter KE (2011) Gulf of Mexico oil blowout increases risks to globally threatened species. Bioscience 61:393–397CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Campana SE (2001) Accuracy, precision and quality control in age determination, including a review of the use and abuse of age validation methods. J Fish Biol 59:197–242. doi: 10.1111/j.1095-8649.2001.tb00127.x CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Corcoran MJ, Gruber SH (1999) The use of photo-identification to study the social organization of the spotted eagle ray, Aetobatus narinari. Bahamas J Sci 7:21–27Google Scholar
  9. Cuevas-Zimbrón E, Pérez-Jiménez JC, Méndez-Loeza I (2011) Spatial and seasonal variation in a target fishery for spotted eagle ray Aetobatus narinari in the southern gulf of Mexico. Fish Sci 77:723–730CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Culter JK, Leverone JR (1993) Bay bottom habitat assessment: final report draft. Sarasota Bay National Estuary Program, Mote Marine Laboratory Technical Report No. 303Google Scholar
  11. den Hartog J, Reijns R (2007) Interactive Individual identification system (I3S). Version 2.0.
  12. Dubick JD (2000) Age and growth of the spotted eagle ray, Aetobatus narinari (Euphrasen, 1790), from southwest Puerto Rico with notes on its biology and life history. MS thesis, Univ. Puerto Rico, MayaguezGoogle Scholar
  13. Efron B, Tibshirani R (1986) Bootstrap methods for standard errors, confidence intervals, and other measures of statistical accuracy. Stat Sci 1:54–75CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. ESRI (2011) ArcGIS Desktop: Release 10. Environmental Systems Research Institute, RedlandsGoogle Scholar
  15. Euphrasen BA (1790) Raja (narinari). kongliga vetenskaps akademiens nya handlingar. Stockholm 11:217–219Google Scholar
  16. Fabens AJ (1965) Properties and fitting of the von bertalanffy growth curve. Growth 29:265–289PubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. Felder DL, Camp DK (eds) (2009) Biodiversity, Vol 1. In: Gulf of Mexico, Origin, Waters, and Biota. Texas A&M University PressGoogle Scholar
  18. FFWCC (2013) Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission saltwater fishing regulations. Accessed 1 August 2013
  19. Flewelling LJ, Adams DH, Naar JP, Atwood KE, Granholm AA, O’Dea SN, Landsberg JH (2010) Brevetoxins in sharks and rays (chondrichthyes, elasmobranchii) from Florida coastal waters. Mar Biol 157:1937–1953CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Francis RICC (1988) Maximum likelihood estimation of growth and growth variability from tagging data. New Zeal J Mar Freshw Res 22:42–51Google Scholar
  21. Francis MP, Campana SE, Jones CM (2007) Age under-estimation in New Zealand porbeagle sharks (Lamna nasus): is there an upper limit to ages that can be determined from shark vertebrae? Mar Freshw Res 58:10–23CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Gompertz B (1832) On the nature of the function expressive of the law of human mortality, and on a new mode of determining the value of life contingencies. Phil Trans R Soc Lond 123:513–583Google Scholar
  23. Gray AE, Mulligan TJ, Hannah RW (1997) Food habits, occurrence, and population structure of the bat ray, Myliobatis californica, in Humboldt Bay, California. Environ Biol Fishes 49:227–238CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Hoese HD, Moore RH (1977) Fishes of the Gulf of Mexico: Texas, Louisiana, and adjacent waters. Texas A&M University Press, College Station Texas, pp 107–123Google Scholar
  25. Hope ACA (1968) A simplified monte Carlo significance test procedure. J Roy Statist Soc Ser B 30:582–598Google Scholar
  26. IUCN (2013) IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.1.>. Downloaded on 29 July 2013
  27. Keys AB (1928) The weight-length relationship in fishes. Proc Nat Acad Sci Wash 14:922–925CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Kuhl H (1823) in van Hasselt, J.C. Uittreksel uit een’ brief van Dr. J. C. van Hasselt, aan den Heer C. J. Temminck. Algemen Konst- en Letter-bode I Deel 20:315–317Google Scholar
  29. Kyne PM, Ishihara H, Dudley SFJ, White WT (2006) Aetobatus narinari. In: IUCN 2013. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.1. Accessed 29 July 2013
  30. Last PR, Stevens JD (1994) Sharks and rays of Australia. CSIRO, MelbourneGoogle Scholar
  31. Mahon J, Chua F, Newman P (2004) Successful spotted eagle ray (Aetobatus narinari) breeding program and details of an assisted birth. Drum and Croaker Special Edition No. 2, High Irreg J Pub Aqua 104–107Google Scholar
  32. Martin LK, Cailliet GM (1988) Aspects of the reproduction of the bat ray, Myliobatis californica, in central California. Copeia 3:754–762CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Martin TG, Wintle BA, Rhodes JR, Kuhnert PM, Field SA, Low-Choy SJ, Tyre AJ, Possingham HP (2005) Zero tolerance ecology: improving ecological inference by modelling the source of zero observations. Ecol Lett 8:1235–1246PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Matern SA, Cech JJ Jr, Hopkins TE (2000) Diel movement of bat rays, Myliobatis californica, in Tomales Bay, California: evidence for behavioral thermoregulation? Environ Biol Fish 58:173–182CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Matich P, Heithaus M (2012) Effects of an extreme temperature event on the behavior and age structure of an estuarine top predator Carcharhinus leucas. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 447:165–178CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Naylor GJ, Caira JN, Jensen K, Rosana KAM, White WT, Last PR (2012) A DNA sequence-based approach to the identification of shark and ray species and its implications for global elasmobranch diversity and parasitology. Bull Amer Mus Nat Hist 367:1–262CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Neer JA, Thompson BA (2005) Life history of the cownose ray, Rhinoptera bonasus, in the northern gulf of Mexico, with comments on geographic variability in life history traits. Environ Biol Fish 73:321–331CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Parker FR, Bailey CM (1979) Massive aggregations of elasmobranchs near mustang and padre islands, Texas. Texas J Sci 31:255–256Google Scholar
  39. Parsons GR, Hoffmayer ER (2005) Seasonal changes in the distribution and relative abundance of the Atlantic sharpnose shark Rhizoprionodon terraenovae in the north central gulf of Mexico. Copeia 4:914–920CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Richards VP, Henning M, Witzell W, Shivji MS (2009) Species delineation and evolutionary history of the globally distributed spotted eagle ray (Aetobatus narinari). J Hered 100:273–283PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Schluessel V (2008) Life history, population genetics and sensory biology of the white spotted eagle ray Aetobatus narinari (Euphrasen, 1790) with emphasis on the relative importance of olfaction. Dissertation, University of Queensland, BrisbaneGoogle Scholar
  42. Schluessel V, Bennett MB, Collin SP (2010) Diet and reproduction in the white-spotted eagle ray aetobatus narinari from Queensland, Australia and the Penghu islands, Taiwan. Mar Freshw Res 61:1278–1289CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Sellas AB, Bassos-Hull K, Hueter RE, Feldheim KA (2011) Isolation and characterization of polymorphic microsatellite markers from the spotted eagle ray (Aetobatus narinari). Conserv Genet Resour 3:609–611CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Shepard TD, Myers RA (2005) Direct and indirect fishery effects on small coastal elasmobranch in the northern gulf of Mexico. Ecol Lett 8:1095–1104CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Silliman WR, Gruber SH (1999) Behavioral biology of the spotted eagle ray, Aetobatus narinari. Bahamas J Sci 7:13–20Google Scholar
  46. Simon JL, Dauer DM (1972) A quantitative evaluation of red-tide induced mass mortalities of benthic invertebrates in Tampa Bay, Florida. Env Lett 4:229–234CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Simpfendorfer CA, Heupel MR, White WT, Dulvy NK (2011) The importance of research and public opinion to conservation management of sharks and rays: a synthesis. Mar Freshw Res 62:518–527CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Smale MJ, Jones RT, Correia JP, Henningsen AD, Crow GL, Garner R (2004) Research on elasmobranchs in public aquariums. In: Smith M, Warmolts D, Thoney D, Hueter R (eds) The elasmobranch husbandry manual: captive care elasmobranch husbandry manual: captive care of sharks, rays and their relatives. Special Publ of Ohio Biol Surv, Columbus, pp 533–541Google Scholar
  49. Smith JW, Merriner JV (1987) Age and growth, movements and distribution of the cownose ray, Rhinoptera bonasus, in chesapeake bay. Estuaries 10:153–164CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Sokal RR, Rohlf FJ (1998) Biometry: the principles and practice of statistics in biological research, 3rd edn. Freeman and Company, WHGoogle Scholar
  51. Stevens JD, Bonfil R, Dulvy NK, Walker PA (2000) The effects of fishing on sharks, rays, and chimaeras (chondrichthyans), and the implications for marine ecosystems. ICES J Mar Sci 57:476–494CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Tagliafico A, Rago N, Rangel S, Mendoza J (2012) Exploitation and reproduction of the spotted eagle ray (Aetobatus narinari) in the Los frailes archipelago, Venezuela. Fish Bull 110:307–316Google Scholar
  53. Trent L, Parshley DE, Carlson JK (1997) Catch and bycatch in the shark drift gillnet fishery off Georgia and east Florida. Mar Fish Rev 59:19–28Google Scholar
  54. Tricas TC (1980) Courtship and mating-related behaviors in myliobatid rays. Copeia 1980:553–556CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Uchida S, Toda M, Kamei Y (1990) Reproduction of elasmobranchs in captivity. In: Pratt HL Jr, Gruber SH, Taniuchi T (eds) Elasmobranchs as living resources: advances in the biology, ecology, systematics, and the status of the fisheries. NOAA Technical Rep, NMFS 90:211–237Google Scholar
  56. von Bertalanffy L (1938) A quantitative theory of organic growth: inquiries on growth laws II. Hum Biol 10:181–213Google Scholar
  57. Vuong QH (1989) Likelihood ratio tests for model selection and non-nested hypotheses. Econometrica 57:307–333CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Welch BL (1947) The generalization of “student’s” problem when several different population variances are involved. Biometrika 34:28–35PubMedGoogle Scholar
  59. White WT, Dharmadi (2007) Species and size compositions and reproductive biology of rays (chondrichthyes, batoidea) caught in target and non- target fisheries in eastern Indonesia. J Fish Biol 70:1809–1837CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. White WT, Last PR, Naylor GJP, Jensen K, Caira JN (2010) Clarification of Aetobatus ocellatus (Kuhl, 1823) as a valid species, and a comparison with Aetobatus narinari (Euphrasen, 1790) (Rajiformes: Myliobatidae). In: Last PR, White WT, Pogonoski JJ (eds) Descriptions of new sharks and rays from Borneo. CSIRO 32:141–164Google Scholar
  61. Wildt AR, Ahtola OT (1978) Analysis of covariance. Sage University paper series on quantitative applications in the social sciences, 12Google Scholar
  62. Yamaguchi A, Kawahara I, Ito S (2005) Occurrence, growth and food of longheaded eagle ray, Aetobatus flagellum, in ariake sound, Kyushu, Japan. Environ Biol Fish 74:229–238CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kim Bassos-Hull
    • 1
    • 3
  • Krystan A. Wilkinson
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  • Peter T. Hull
    • 1
  • Dean A. Dougherty
    • 1
  • Kristen L. Omori
    • 4
  • Lisa E. Ailloud
    • 4
  • John J. Morris
    • 1
  • Robert E. Hueter
    • 1
  1. 1.The Center for Shark Research, Mote Marine LaboratorySarasotaUSA
  2. 2.Wildlife Ecology and ConservationUniversity of FloridaGainesvilleUSA
  3. 3.Chicago Zoological Society, c/o Mote Marine LaboratorySarasotaUSA
  4. 4.Virginia Institute of Marine ScienceCollege of William & MaryGloucester PointUSA

Personalised recommendations