Flatsharks

One of the most rewarding things that I find has to be the feeling I get when shooting Rays. Venomous, cartilaginous, elegant and characterful creatures, Rays have a special place in my life as they glide over reef, sand and seagrass beds. It’s always a pleasure being able to approach these timid but potentially lethal creatures.

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Neotrygon khulii, Khul’s maskray, better known as the blue-spotted Stingray, tend to dwell in the deeper parts of the reef. I’ve found them mostly below 18 meters but I’ve also observed some in waters as shallow as 6 meters deep. Whilst on a dive I mistook the tail end of one buried in the sand for the discarded spine of a pencil urchin. As I reached out and grasped it’s tail, I felt a slimy coating on my fingers and let go, looking to the right to find a pair of beady yellow eyes staring right at me. Calmly I moved away and the ray slowly shuffled itself out of the sand and glided off into the blue.

Rays are closely related to sharks, not so much in their shapes and sizes but because they both have a skeleton made entirely of cartilage instead of bone. Ray’s jaws are dissimilar to most sharks however, because they are built as two plates which grind together crustaceans and small fish after they have been vacuumed up into the predator’s mouth. Rarely have I seen them hunting, but when I have it’s usually been on night dives when rays are most active, sifting through the sand detecting the small pulses given off by fish hiding in the dark.

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Taeniura lymma, the Blue-spotted ribbontail Stingray, I most commonly see on dives. Curious and very quick when they want to be, these rays are found mostly under coralheads during the day where they sleep, and emerge at night to hunt. Like all stingrays they boast a powerful defensive weapon in the form of a poisonous barb, situated halfway up their decorative tail. Having found one of these barbs on the sea floor, and upon closer inspection, I noticed that the barb wasn’t like a needle but more like a very sharp serrated blade. If one were to run one’s fingers from the tip of the barb right down to the base, it can feel as smooth as silk. Run your fingers up in the opposite direction, and you could find yourself with a very sore finger indeed. These serrations are ridiculously sharp and allow for the venom contained to enter the bloodstream. This barb is purely made for self defence against the ray’s most common predators, being Sharks and the unsuspecting human foot.

Whilst shooting stingrays, and like shooting most things, buoyancy control is key. I simply cannot stress this enough especially when it comes to stingray, simply because of their potentially lethal barb. Keep an eye on the subject as often as possible, try not to corner it, and remember not to hover over the ray as it could raise it’s tail with surprising speed. Taking the shot from side on works best for me, especially if the ray is on the move as its possible to capture a very nice shot of the creature in full motion.

 

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A ghostly figure, this Khul’s maskray darts off into the gloom after I had unknowingly disturbed it’s slumber on a sandy bed.

 

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Usually kipping under coral heads or in little caves, these stingray can be rather timid and tend to dart off at the first sign of a diver coming close for a shot. However the approach can make all the difference. breathing techniques and proper buoyancy, along with a calm and smooth approach can lead to a lovely shot, and a good look into the eyes of a colour-blind, poison-spear armed inverted frying pan covered in blue spots.

 

 

 

 

 

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