Environmental Biology of Fishes

, Volume 97, Issue 9, pp 1067–1081 | Cite as

Towed-float satellite telemetry tracks large-scale movement and habitat connectivity of myliobatid stingrays

  • Matthew J. AjemianEmail author
  • Sean P. Powers


Batoids are important mesopredators whose high mobility and extensive migrations can link seemingly distant food webs in coastal ecosystems. Despite this recognition, our knowledge of the movement patterns of many species is limited due to the logistical challenge of tracking these animals on multiple scales. Smart Positioning or Temperature (SPOT) satellite-linked transmitters allow for precise, multi-scale tracking of species that regularly use surface waters. To date, SPOTs have been predominantly used on sharks, with only a single application to a batoid. Given the epipelagic nature of myliobatid stingrays, we examined the potential for towed-float SPOT transmitters to monitor large-scale movements of two representative species: the Cownose Ray (Rhinoptera bonasus; n = 15) and Spotted Eagle Ray (Aetobatus narinari; n = 9). Tracking data identified several consistent outmigration patterns of Cownose Rays along the Mississippi-Alabama shelf and seasonal variation in movement rates along barrier island habitats. We also documented sex-related differences in movement rates and habitat use of Spotted Eagle Rays along the Bermuda platform, where males exhibited significantly higher movement rates than females and more transient behavior between inshore lagoons and outer coral reefs. Both Cownose and Spotted Eagle Rays were shown to exhibit connectivity among several habitat types along continental shelves in their respective locales, demonstrating future challenges to the management of these species over large spatial scales. While reductions in tag size and improved tethering techniques would undoubtedly broaden the applicability of towed-float satellite telemetry to other species and sizes, our work highlights the strong potential for this technology to provide insights into the spatial ecology and habitat use of myliobatid rays.


Elasmobranch Myliobatidae Satellite telemetry Cownose Ray Spotted Eagle Ray SPOT 



This study was conducted in accordance with the laws of the State of Alabama and under IACUC protocols (Permit # 05043-FSH) approved by the University of South Alabama. All Spotted Eagle Rays were collected under special permit # SP090608, issued by the Bermuda Government Department of Environmental Protection. All efforts were made to minimize animal suffering during tagging procedures. Collection of Spotted Eagle Rays would have been impossible without the field and logistical assistance of Marine Ops staff of the Bermuda Aquarium, Museum and Zoo (BAMZ; C.T. Flook and C. Bridgewater, K. Smith), members of the Fisheries Ecology Lab at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab (M. Kenworthy, K. Gregalis, C. Hightower, L.M. Showalter, C. Pabody, N. Bawden, L. Dodd, S. Chutkan, A. Brown, A. Kroetz, M. Schrandt), as well as interns and students from BZS/BAMZ (C. Grenfell, J. Rosser, D. Young, and R. Fisher). Funding for this project came from the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative Small Grants for Exploratory Research and the Bermuda Zoological Society. We are indebted to W.T. Driggers III, C. Jones, I. MacDonald, and T.J.T. Murdoch for advice on tag placement, animal handling, and general logistical support. Save Our Seas Foundation provided financial support for this publication and others in this special issue. Special thanks go to Gregg Poulakis for his insightful comments on the manuscript, as well as the input of an additional anonymous reviewer. This is Contribution #217 of the Bermuda Biodiversity Project (BBP), Bermuda Aquarium, Natural History Museum and Zoo, Department of Conservation Services.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Marine SciencesUniversity of South AlabamaMobileUnited States
  2. 2.Center for Ecosystem-based Fisheries ManagementDauphin Island Sea LabDauphin IslandUnited States
  3. 3.Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico StudiesTexas A&M University – Corpus ChristiCorpus ChristiUSA

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