Endangered Sea Creature Spotted Off US East Coast for the First Time, Researchers Reveal
A rare, endangered sea creature has been observed off the US East Coast for the first time, according to scientists.
The elusive creature is the sicklefin devil ray, a massive fish known to dive up to 6,000 feet deep, as reported in a study published in the Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom.
These rays, which can grow up to 12 feet wide, are thought to inhabit specific ocean regions worldwide, but their presence has never been confirmed near the United States until now.
Rare sea creature — a 12-foot ‘devil’ — spotted off US East Coast for the first time https://t.co/Hm8eJURlgK
— Miami Herald (@MiamiHerald) April 28, 2023
To address the absence of official records, researchers from the Marine Megafauna Foundation, a Florida-based nonprofit, collected sightings of the fish from various sources, including scuba divers, aerial surveyors, and social media platforms.
“One sighting even featured a video of a devil ray accidentally swimming into a commercial saturation diver’s airline in the darkness!” said Jessica Pate, a research scientist with the Marine Megafauna Foundation, in a press release.
After analyzing the data, researchers identified “180 sightings and 361 individual sicklefin devil rays gathered between 1996 and 2022 in the waters off the US east coast and Gulf of Mexico.”
This discovery expands the known range of the rays to include the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico.
“Many people are unaware that these rays exist; they’ve occasionally been mistaken for manta rays, which are even larger,” Pate noted. “This study demonstrates how non-scientists frequently make crucial observations and contribute to the conservation of endangered species.”
Accurate information on the rays’ habitat is essential for understanding risks posed by fisheries, the researchers said.
Researchers were able to compile sightings from a variety of sources, including scuba divers, aerial surveyors and social media sites. https://t.co/R86LyZIgiW
— Centre Daily Times (@centredaily) April 28, 2023
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) listed the fish as endangered in a 2019 report. While challenging to verify, their populations seem to be decreasing.
The rays are fished worldwide, especially in India and Indonesia, and are often caught inadvertently as part of bycatch, the report states.
Limited information is available about their biology, but it is believed that they produce only one offspring every few years, implying that they likely need ample time to replenish their populations, according to the report.
“This study emphasizes how incidental observations and observer data can offer critical knowledge on rare, vulnerable, and challenging-to-study species,” Pate said.