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VIDEO: Eagle Ray: underwater jet fighter

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The Eagle Ray, or whai repo in Te Reo Maori, is a very common sight around beaches here in Tauranga and around the North Island and top of the South Island.

Known as kaitiaki or guardians, these underwater fliers are the jet fighters of the sea and though their tails lack the lethalness of stingrays, they more than make up for it in speed and agility.

Click the image above to watch the video

An Eagle Ray forms a pit by expelling a jet of water from its gills. Photo: Nathan Pettigrew

It’s a rather handy skill to have in order to escape the jaws of their main predators, orca and sharks.

While Eagle rays do have a sting, it is likely to be protein based, and soaking the wound in hot water will help to reduce any pain.

These rays are wider than they are long and can grow to 1.5m across and vary in colour from dark brown to light with blue-ish spots.

They are often seen around estuaries and in shallow parts of the beach, where you might see an ‘eagle ray pit’ - an area that looks like a shallow crater where the ray has fed on shellfish and crabs.

A jet of water is pumped through their gills, taking sand with it, where eventually a crater forms below the ray.

In the middle of these pits, it is not uncommon to find broken shells which are left behind after the feeding.

On a few occasions, as the rays search out food, I have seen them ‘clambering’ over rocks or foliage in shallow water.

They always seem to make to deeper water but I have to wonder if on occasion some rays ‘strand’ from being in this predicament.

As the waters cool and summer comes to an end, these rays that have come into the warmer, safer waters to breed will begin their journey offshore, only to return again next spring.

I will be waiting with camera in hand.

For me, these creatures are an awesome sight to watch and during the warmer months, they offer a kind of viewing that many people can only dream of seeing.

How lucky are we to be living in this wonderful part of the World?

Nathan Pettigrew is a Tauranga based kayaker, carver and marine explorer.

Comments on SunLive

Great footage

Posted on 16-02-2015 16:48 | By Fonzie

Thanks very much for sharing

great stuff

Posted on 14-02-2015 19:15 | By Me again

thanks for the footage. Reminds me of what we have to marvel at, at our own back door. Use to watch them from the rocks at Motiti Island when we were kids for hours. More of this would be great Thanks again

My Son-In-Law

Posted on 14-02-2015 13:30 | By Watchdog

sold his kayak to get savings for his first house. I reckon when he sees this he will go out and buy another one. Fantastic and impressive filmwork. I was astonished to see how many there are. Such beautiful creatures. Thanks for that wonderful filmwork.


Posted on 14-02-2015 12:54 | By maddog

Great footage would like to see more like that


Posted on 14-02-2015 12:40 | By rosbo

Can we have more of that sort of thing?


Posted on 14-02-2015 08:43 | By Smilarkie

Great to watch. Thanks for that. NZ rocks.


Posted on 14-02-2015 08:16 | By nerak

Thanks Nathan, a beautiful piece of footage to start my day. Reminded me of a paddle past 15th Ave last summer when a ray shot across in front of me and when I followed him there would have been maybe 25 of them, just idling along beside me. Great to watch, but your footage is much more exciting. I look forward to seeing more from you.

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