Sunday, August 17, 2008

Coral Bay experience (5) - The leopard whipray

Stingrays! My favorite underwater model. They are beautiful enough when they are still, even the ones with plain colors. They are so graceful when they flap their fins, like a giant bird flapping its wings in slow motion.

This one is possibly a leopard whipray (Himantura undulata). I saw it near the shore, in water that was only 1 meter deep. It was covered in sand and I almost missed it.

The upper surface of its body, including part of its tail, is covered in a of pattern of dark blotches resembling that of a leopard's fur. And if you look carefully, you can see the spine on its tail. This one has one spine, typical of a leopard whipray.

Initially I thought this is Himantura uarnak, also known as coachwhip stingray or honeycomb stingray. It does look similar to the picture of H. uarnak in "The Marine Fishes of North-Western Australia: A field guide for anglers and divers" (Gerald R. Allen & Roger Swainston, 1988). Later, my friend Steve told me that it might be Himantura undulata (leopard whipray) according to "World Atlas of Marine Fishes" by Rudie Kuiter and Helmut Debelius. Well, the first book doesn't have any info about leopard whipray.

"Field Guide to Australian Sharks and Rays" by RK Daley, JD Stevens, PR Last, and GK Yearsley (2002) says that the adult leopard whipray can be confused with the coachwhip stingray (H. uarnak) and these spesies are not easy to ID. The Georgia Museum website says the same thing. Anyway, since this stingray fits the descriptions I could find about leopard whipray (e.g. leopard-like spots even on part of the tail, very long tail, only one spine, found in the Ningaloo Reef Marine Park), I will assume it is a leopard whipray.

On the spot, I estimated its tail to be about 5 times its main body length!

In fact, after my encounter with this stingray, I began to think that one good way of looking for a stingray like this one is to look for any unusual-looking, long stick on the sandy floor - its tail. This fish moved a couple of times during "our" photography session, but I noticed that while the fish's body could be covered in sand for camouflage, the tail was usually exposed.

Other references:
A little guide to stingrays by Nigel Marsh


Mosura said...

An excellent encounter. I wonder why it has such a long tail.

Anonymous said...

Excellent photography!!!

Tsun-Thai Chai said...

Hi Alan,
At some point, when I was just a few feet right above the fish, a thought came to mind: "Be careful, be careful. Don't get stung!"

I was super-wary at all time.

But thank Goodness it didn't turn hostile to me. So, on the last day of my trip, I finally got some decent shots of a stingray - even though I had seen a few other rays underwater and a few when I took a stroll on the beach that whole week.