For the first time in scientific history, the wild stingray has been located and tagged by researchers.
The small-eyed species is known to be the largest and rarest sea stingray in the world – and was eventually spotted in Mozambique.
National Geographic explorer and stingray expert Andrea Marshall set off off the coast of the Bazaruto Archipelago in search of the rare stingray.
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After weeks of searching, Marshall spotted a tiny eye in shallow water, National Geographic (NatGeo) reported.
She was able to dive afterward and touched him with a six-foot-long pole to extract a small sample of skin from his underside.
The skate remained calm, which was good news for Marshall.
The small eyes have a deadly spiky spine the length of a human forearm.
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A wrong move “would put us in mortal danger,” Marshall told NatGeo.
Marshall is also the founder of the Marine Megafauna Foundation, based in Mozambique.
The fish, native to the Pacific Ocean, can measure up to 10 feet long and eight feet wide.
The species earned the name “little eyes” for its small, raisin-sized eyes, NatGeo said.
Since they are so rarely spotted, the little eyes are likely a critically endangered species, this publication also said.
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Marshall and his colleagues spent the next few months diving at dawn for other little eyes along the Mozambican coast.
The team tagged 11 small eyes using acoustic and satellite tags, to track long-distance and small-scale movements.
Although the mission was a success, Marshall shared with NatGeo that she and her team encountered a few close calls.
This includes learning how the huge stingray can lift its stinger on its back and swing it, much like a scorpion.
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Preliminary data shows the stingray can dive more than 650 feet deep and swim hundreds of miles in a day, according to Marshall.
Researchers hope that tagging these rays will provide an answer to why they travel so far.
The stingray’s diving depth could explain its extremely small eyes, since vision isn’t as crucial in the dark, Marshall said.
The tags would have revealed that the rays hang around the reefs at night, which could mean that they feed at dawn and dusk.
Many questions remain regarding the behavior of smalleye rays; the International Union for Conservation of Nature lists the species as “Data Deficient”.
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Marshall’s goal is to gather enough information to improve protection for small eyes, NatGeo notes.
Anyone wanting more details can visit nationalgeographic.com.