One of the great attractions of the Playas del Coco dive sites is the always graceful spotted eagle ray. These rays are unique from other ray species in several ways. Rather than having a flat body style that extends out into a wide wingspan, they have a bill-like snout and a flat, disk shaped body from which the wings extend. The rays have a dark dorsal surface covered with easily identifiable white dots or rings. They have an off-white underbelly and several venomous barbed stingers on their tails behind their pelvic fins.
These rays can get up to 5 meters long, 3 meters in wingspan, and have been recorded weighing up to 230 kilograms. They prefer to live in water that is 24-27 degrees Celsius, and are generally shy and avoid human contact unless they feel unthreatened by the person, in which case they will slow down slightly to express a mild curiosity.
The hunting habits of the spotted eagle ray are also different from other rays, made possible by their snouts. Rather than being filter feeders, the eagle rays eat small fish and crustaceans and can sometimes be observed digging in the sand with their snouts for their prey. This activity can be spotted from some distance by the cloud of sand that the rays stir up.
Most often, spotted eagle rays can be seen alone or in small groups, though they travel in larger groups while covering long distances. Their patterns generally follow the tides; they swim inshore while the tide rises, forage and socialize at high tide, return to deeper waters as the tide goes out, and rest during low tide.
Spotted Eagle rays have, on several occasions, leapt out of the water and landed on passing boats! They frequently leap out of the water to escape predators or shake off parasites, but on these occasions the boats just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
These rays inhabit many coastal waters around the world including the Western Atlantic off the coasts of North Carolina, Florida and Bermuda, the Gulf of Mexico, the Eastern Atlantic from Mauritania to Angola, the Indo-West Pacific in the Red Sea, South Africa to Hawaii, north to Japan and south to Australia, the Eastern Pacific from the Gulf of California to Puerto Pizarro, Peru and the Galapagos Islands, and of course, here in Playas del Coco, Costa Rica!