Date of Original Version
The whitespotted eagle ray Aetobatus narinari is a tropical to warm‐temperate benthopelagic batoid that ranges widely throughout the western Atlantic Ocean. Despite conservation concerns for the species, its vertical habitat use and diving behaviour remain unknown. Patterns and drivers in the depth distribution of A. narinari were investigated at two separate locations, the western North Atlantic (Islands of Bermuda) and the eastern Gulf of Mexico (Sarasota, Florida, U.S.A.). Between 2010 and 2014, seven pop‐up satellite archival tags were attached to A. narinari using three methods: a through‐tail suture, an external tail‐band and through‐wing attachment. Retention time ranged from 0 to 180 days, with tags attached via the through‐tail method retained longest. Tagged rays spent the majority of time (82.85 ± 12.17% S.D.) within the upper 10 m of the water column and, with one exception, no rays travelled deeper than ~26 m. One Bermuda ray recorded a maximum depth of 50.5 m, suggesting that these animals make excursions off the fore‐reef slope of the Bermuda Platform. Individuals occupied deeper depths (7.42 ± 3.99 m S.D.) during the day versus night (4.90 ± 2.89 m S.D.), which may be explained by foraging and/or predator avoidance. Each individual experienced a significant difference in depth and temperature distributions over the diel cycle. There was evidence that mean hourly depth was best described by location and individual variation using a generalized additive mixed model approach. This is the first study to compare depth distributions of A. narinari from different locations and describe the thermal habitat for this species. Our study highlights the importance of region in describing A. narinari depth use, which may be relevant when developing management plans, whilst demonstrating that diel patterns appear to hold across individuals.
Brewster LR, Cahill BV, Burton MN, Dougan C, Herr JS, Issac Norton L, McGuire SA, Pico M, Urban-Gedamke E, Bassos-Hull K, Tyminski JP, Hueter RE, Wetherbee BM, Shivji M, Burnie N, Ajemian MJ. First insights into the vertical habitat use of the whitespotted eagle ray Aetobatus narinari revealed by pop-up satellite archival tags. J Fish Biol. 2020 Sep 28. doi: 10.1111/jfb.14560. PMID: 32985701.