Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium scientists are hoping to learn more about the lives and times of spotted eagle rays who call the Gulf of Mexico home.
On Tuesday, they released two of the beautiful marine creatures off Longboat Key after fitting them with acoustic tags in an effort find out their population status, reproduction cycles and life history in the first comprehensive spotted eagle ray conservation project in the Gulf.
The project, which launched in 2009, has so far found that spotted eagle rays in the Sarasota area either say in the area or return after periods of months to years. Scientists believe some eagle ray pups are born in late summer and early fall and the rays move or migrate to other locations in winter months when waters in the Gulf cool.
The two rays released Tuesday included a 57-pound male and a 77-pound female.
“While spotted eagle rays are protected in Florida, they are not protected under federal laws and international protections are limited,” Mote said in a press release. “These rays are harvested in Mexico and Cuba as food, and this fishing pressure, combined with their extremely low reproductive rate, makes them a vulnerable species.”