Mote Marine released two spotted eagle rays off Longboat Key on Tuesday after they were fitted with acoustic tags.
Scientists with Mote fitted the 57-pound male and 77-pound female rays with the tags June 11, which are ultrasound-emitting devices that emit signals for years.
“In order to conserve them we need to understand where they go and what they eat, and we can do this by using various techniques such as satellite and acoustic tagging, new technologies that were not available to researchers 20 years ago,” said Mote senior biologist Kim Bassos-Hull.
The Spotted Eagle Ray Conservation Research Program at Mote started in 2009 to understand more about the life history, reproduction and population status of Aetobatus narinari in the Gulf of Mexico and northwestern Caribbean Sea. Mote has tagged and released around 540 since the program’s inception.
The rays are protected in Florida waters, but not when they reach Mexico and Cuba where they are harvested as food.
“Spotted eagle rays are a good indicator of overall health,” said Bassos-Hull. “Understanding ... their connect on to other trophic levels such as predators is important for safeguarding the overhealth of our oceans.”
According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Red List, the spotted eagle ray is listed as “near threatened” as their numbers are declining.
Researchers still want to know about their distribution, migration, feeding habits, growth rates and reproductive biology.
This program originally started as a conservation funded by the National Aquarium of Baltimore, but later developed into a research program supported by Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund, the Save Our Seas Foundation and the Georgia Aquarium.