Species overview

There are various ray species that can be spotted in Galapagos, all quite striking for different reasons. Spotted eagle rays have a black top side with luminescent-looking white dots, manta rays can have a width of up to seven metres and you might even miss the golden rays as their sandy coloured topsides are fantastic camouflage against the sea floor.

Golden cownose ray illustration © Laura Guerrero

Rays are cartilaginous fish that are closely related to sharks. They have a very flat, circular body shape and a long tail. Manta rays are even named after their flat bodies as manta translates to ‘carpet’ in Spanish. They are very graceful swimmers and instead of swimming side-to-side like sharks, rays move in an undulating top-to-bottom motion. So, when they are swimming, their fins look like wings during flight. Their flattened bodies also allow rays to hide against the sea floor. For example, stingrays can wait underneath a thin layer of sand whilst waiting for their prey to arrive.

Fish reproduction varies a lot. Rays lay eggs but carry them within their bodies for roughly a year. Once the eggs hatch, rays expel them from their body. This process is known as ovoviviparous.

Spotted eagle ray illustration © Laura Guerrero

Most rays, such as stingrays, golden and spotted eagle rays are carnivorous, eating molluscs, worms, small fish, squid and sometimes even octopus. Stingrays and spotted eagle rays can both give lethal stings from the base of their tail but this is only ever used in defence. For example, they would not sting their prey but might use them against a predator like a shark. Spotted eagle and golden rays tend to swim in groups.

Oceanic manta ray illustration © Laura Guerrero

The largest of the rays, manta rays only eat plankton and do this by filter feeding. Filter feeding is a technique where rays swim along with their mouths open, collecting and consuming plankton whilst expelling water. They can do this because they have specially adapted mouths. This usually takes place over coral reefs or near the surface of the water as this is where the plankton is most abundant.

More recently, a new manta ray behaviour has been discovered. Manta rays have been spotted leaping out of the water and then landing back with a belly flop. There are various theories behind why the giant rays take part. For example, it could be to shake off parasites, as a defensive tactic or even just playful behaviour. The reason behind this behaviour is still unknown but great fun to watch.


In Galapagos

Where to see them: Rays can be spotted all over Galapagos and there are certain spots for each species. Spotted eagle rays and golden rays can be found in Elizabeth Bay on Isabela and often found at Caleta Tortuga Nerga, also known as Black Turtle Cove, on Santa Cruz. Giant manta rays can be seen in the waters off Wolf and Darwin islands and in the channel between Santiago island and Sombero Chino islet.

When to see them: The best time to spot rays is between December and May. This is when the water is slightly warmer and visibility is clearer.

Threats: Commercial fishing, such as longline fishing, poses a large threat to rays outside of the Galapagos Marine Reserve. This involves nets as large at 10m by 3m being dragged across the sea bed. Another potential threat to rays is microplastic. This is yet to be confirmed but some theories suggest microplastics interfere with food chains and can stunt the growth of these fish.

Conservation action: Manta rays are listed on Appendix II of CITES meaning that all international trade of this species must be registered. We are working with partners to ensure all ray species in Galapagos are protected through our work on our Plastic Pollution Free Galapagos Programme and Endangered Sharks of Galapagos Programme which will benefit ray populations all over Galapagos.

You can help us protect the rays of Galapagos by donating today!