Observations of spotted eagle rays (Aetobatus narinari) in the Mexican Caribbean using photo-ID

Abstract

The spotted eagle ray is an iconic species for the recreational diving and snorkeling industry in the Mexican Caribbean although it is heavily fished in nearby waters of the southern Gulf of Mexico and in Cuba. This species is listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as ‘Near Threatened’ with a decreasing population trend. Few studies have reported on the populations and migrations of spotted eagle rays in the Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea, and no regulations currently exist for the fishery or tourism industries in Mexico. Photographic identification techniques were used to produce the first photo-ID catalog of spotted eagle rays in the Mexican Caribbean using 1096 photographs submitted by researchers and divers between 2003 and 2016. In total, 282 individual spotted eagle rays were identified through photographs at nine sites across the Mexican Caribbean. Of these individuals, 14.9% were resighted at least once at the same site. The longest period between re-sighting events was 342 days. This is the first study evaluating free-swimming spotted eagle rays in the Mexican Caribbean and highlights the value of using photo-ID for monitoring populations of this ray. Because a targeted subsistence fishery for spotted eagle rays exists in nearby waters, management efforts to monitor and prevent overexploitation at key diving locations should be a priority for local government agencies.

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Acknowledgements

We thank the dive operators, dive associates, and underwater photographers who contributed photographs and without whom this study would not have been possible. We also would like to thank Ivan Mendez Loeza, Breanna DeGroot and Dr. Matt Ajemian for training and constructive suggestions on the project’s methods, as well as our collaborator Gabriela López Carrasco for photograph processing. We would like to thank Aquaworld, SCUBA Cancun and Solo Buceo for their ongoing assistance and field support. Funding and in-kind support for this project was provided by Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund, Save Our Seas Foundation, Mote Scientific Foundation and anonymous donors. This study was conducted in accordance with the Parque Nacional Arrecifes de Puerto Morelos regulations for conducting research in a national marine park (No. F00.9. DNAPM.422/15).

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Correspondence to F. Cerutti-Pereyra.

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Cerutti-Pereyra, F., Bassos-Hull, K., Arvizu-Torres, X. et al. Observations of spotted eagle rays (Aetobatus narinari) in the Mexican Caribbean using photo-ID. Environ Biol Fish 101, 237–244 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10641-017-0694-y

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Keywords

  • Aetobatus narinari
  • Spotted eagle ray
  • Caribbean
  • Mexico
  • Photo-ID
  • Site fidelity
  • Aggregation
  • Batoid