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Wednesday
Feb072018

Shark and Ray  Alley

This was one of my first experiences in the water with both Nurse Sharks (Ginglymostoma cirratum) and (Dasyatidae) Rays. It was extraordinary to watch each species entwining between the next as though they were the same. These animals may not have always been so harmonious together, just as they would not have been so accustomed to humans and intrigued by boat engines, making their shift in nature one worth noting.

The Southern, Caribbean and illusive Eagle Ray are all species that can be found patrolling the waters of Caye Caulker, though the Nurse Shark is usually the most common species to be seen in this area. Sharks are nocturnal, which makes their new jovial turn of character one that displaces their natural instincts and makes them even more susceptible to more forthright ‘predators’ They have short, abrasive teeth that grind and grit rather than puncture and do not share the same dexterous regard as other species of Shark such as the Reef or Bull Shark. It is easy to confuse them with a Catfish, though it is recommended that you leave your hand in its mouth until it lets go as opposed to taking it out suddenly, minus a few fingers. Nurse Sharks hunt mainly fish, though this shift in behaviour as nocturnal hunters will undoubtedly make them less operative as predators and more attractive as prey.

The Rays of Caye Caulker are probably the most majestic class of marine species circling the depths of the island, though their contact with idle tourists has paved way for a much sandier path. They can often be found half buried at the seabed with their barbed tail covered and sensory organs protruding just above, a transcending shift of evolution, one favouring the nap as a key component of the hunt. They stalk mainly Crustaceans and other shadow dwellers that hide between rocks and under boats, which is why they are often found guarding the shallow waters of the docks late at night. While it is highly unlikely for a Ray to attack a human, their new congeniality with tourists may not always remain this way when the petting boundaries become tainted. Tourists must remember that both of these animals are not to be handled flippantly, they are highly capable predators who live in hostile environments and do not hesitate to dispel threats.

This reoccurring debate of human interaction is one that seems to precede most of the topics at hand. It is essential to look retrospectively on our behaviour in environments that are dependable on certain species survival, in order to ascertain a longevity of not only the reef and surrounding habitats but those affording our own.

By Jake Darcy - Belize Journalism Volunteer

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