A rare and endangered species of stingray has been spotted in Maltese waters.
The bull ray or Aetomylaeus bovinus was spotted by free diver Glorianne Sciberras who shared footage of the creature skimming along the sandy bottom of a Maltese bay during a night dive.
The bull ray can usually be distinguished from other rays by its distinctive diamond shape and light blue stripes.
The creatures typically skim on the sea floor, using their wing-shaped fins to fly gracefully through the water.
“Right now it's the season to spot them, so I went for a free dive at night with some friends and there it was,” she told Times of Malta.
“It’s such a beautiful creature but it's endangered and on the red list, which is such a shame.”
Sciberras, who documents her underwater adventures on the Instagram account Malta Ginger Mermaid, said that she posts about aquatic life to highlight the beauty of our seas and to raise awareness about the ills of pollution and overfishing that are a threat to conservation.
“A lot of people are afraid of the sea and part of why I post online is to show people that there’s nothing to be afraid of and we need to take care of what we have.”
“Unfortunately, this bull ray looked like it was missing some of its tail and had some cuts on its wings, a sign that it may have been caught in a net,” she said.
“Apart from pollution, overfishing and abandoned nets are some of the greatest threats being faced by aquatic life.”
“There is not a lot of control or enforcement on where one is allowed to fish for example and no one is monitoring how many nets are just being cast into the sea and which other wildlife may be impacted by.”
Marine biologist Alan Deidun told Times of Malta that, despite residing in deeper waters at other times of year, bull rays are indigenous to Malta and are more commonly spotted in the late summer when they search for sandy bays to lay their eggs in.
“The first bull ray sighting was recorded in Malta around 2010 or 2011 and in fact, there is even a Maltese name for it, għasfur or tajra ta rasha twila.
“Unfortunately the bull ray is critically endangered because rays, like most sharks, are highly vulnerable.”
“They reproduce less frequently and far slower than other species and are often unintentionally caught it nets and thrown away.”
“It's a problem, its not uncommon for example to go down in say Marsaxlokk and see the bottom of the bay littered in bycatch rays.”
Bull rays are listed as critically endangered and are on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s red list.
In 2020 conservation authorities Nature Trust Malta and Sharklab Malta urged authorities to make the bull ray a protected species among declining numbers and after a diver shot a bull ray with a harpoon.
Correction August 28, 2022: A previous version misstated the bull ray's Maltese name.
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