Speaking at the Friends of the Environment’s Abaco Science Alliance Conference on January 7, 2016, Owen O’Shea, associate research scientist at the Cape Eleuthera Institute (CEI), shared how the Shark Research and Conservation Program is trying to learn more concerning stingrays as so little research exists on them.
Dr. O’Shea said that similar to their shark ancestors, there are still many myths and misconceptions about these typically mild mannered creatures.
In his research, Dr. O’Shea focused on the Southern stingray (dasyatis Americana) and Caribbean whiptail stingray (himantura schmardae) for his research on these mesobenthic (living upon or in the bottom between the outer edge of the continental slope and the bottom of the deep ocean) predators and their impact within the food chain.
He discussed how, through a process called bioturbation, rays can alter ecosystems physically, chemically, and biologically. Often overlooked and underappreciated, these creatures play an important role in maintaining a healthy marine ecosystem.
The project began in January of 2015, and is the largest study of its kind in The Bahamas. The purpose of this research on stingrays is to gain valuable baseline data regarding their habitat use, growth rates, behavior, daily activity budgets, genetic connectivity, demography and feeding preferences.
He said that the stingrays are caught using fishing nets along local creeks, coasts and offshore sand cays and are measured, tagged, sampled for tissue and blood, and released. Together with the help of the Island School students, visiting Educational Programs and undergraduate students, Dr. O’Shea has caught 125 stingrays across both species, including 59 recaptured individuals.
Since these rays occupy coastal and nearshore environments, it is believed they are actually more susceptible to anthropogenic impacts such as habitat loss and degradation and overfishing when compared to offshore populations of fish.
Dr. O’Shea said it is critical that further research is conducted to learn more about these animals. This research will allow for the formation of a more solid knowledge base as well as an efficient conservation and management framework for both species and the habitats that support them.