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The great ocean migration... thousands of majestic stingrays swim to new seas


By Marcus Dunk


Last updated at 10:50 PM on 25th June 2008



Like autumn leaves floating in a sunlit pond, this vast expanse of magnificent stingrays animates the bright blue seas of the Gulf of Mexico.


Taken off the coast of Mexico's Holbox Island by amateur photographer Sandra Critelli, this breathtaking picture captures the migration of thousands of rays as they follow the clockwise current from Mexico's Yucatan peninsula to western Florida.


Measuring up to 6ft 6in across, poisonous golden cow-nose rays migrate in groups - or 'fevers' - of up to 10,000 as they glide their way silently towards their summer feeding grounds.


Enlarge article-0-01B8EF8900000578-909_468x314.jpg Magical: Golden Rays migrating in the Gulf of Mexico

They migrate twice yearly: north in late spring (as pictured here) and south in late autumn.


There are around 70 species of stingray in the world's oceans, but these cow-nose rays (Rhinoptera bonasus) have distinctive, highdomed heads, giving them a curiously bovine appearance.


But despite their placid looks, they are still armed with a poisonous stinger, which can be deadly to humans (even though sharks, their main predators, are more likely to provoke them).


The stinger, a razor-sharp spine that grows from the creature's whip-like tail, can reach almost 15 inches in length and carries a heady dose of venom.


It was a similar stinger that killed the hugely popular Australian naturalist Steve Irwin in 2006.



article-0-01B8EF7500000578-336_468x700.jpg Arc: The rays, swimming in a long line, was spotted by amateur photographer Sandra Critelli

But even equipped with this powerful punch, cow-nose stingrays are shy and non-threatening in large 'fevers'. Even when isolated, they will attack only when cornered or threatened.

Unlike other stingrays, they rarely rest on the seabed (where unsuspecting humans can step on them) and prefer to be on the move.


They migrate long distances, and can be found as far south as the Caribbean and as far north as New England.


They use their extended pectoral fins to swim, and often turn upside down, curling their fin tips above the surface of the water - leaving terrified swimmers convinced that they have seen a shark.


Enlarge article-0-01B8EF7900000578-32_468x314.jpg Close up: The rays, properly known as Cow-nosed Stingrays, are known because of their bovine-like high-domed heads

Their flexible fins also come in handy when rustling up food. By flapping them rapidly over the seabed, they stir up sand and reveal crabs, shellfish and oysters, which they then feed on using their powerful, grinding teeth.


Their particular fondness for shellfish has made them public enemy number one with oyster fishermen.


But despite this, their numbers are exploding, thanks in part to rising sea temperatures. They mate every winter, and females produce a litter of five to ten young.


Enlarge article-0-01B8EF9100000578-540_468x312.jpg Stunning: Onlookers watch as thousands of Golden rays make their migration in the Gulf of Mexico

Stingrays (which are related to skates and sharks) have never been widely fished for food, mainly because of their rubbery flesh.


But barbecued stingray and dried fins are common in Singapore and Malaysia, while pickled stingray remains a traditional favourite in Iceland. 'It was an unforgettable image,' said photographer Critelli.

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