Breathtaking footage captures the rare eagle ray swimming on Australia's Great Barrier Reef
Instagram / @jacintashackleton

The ornate eagle ray (Aetomylaeus vespertilio) an extremely rare species that conservationists say is getting rarer, with e​stimates suggesting numbers have halved over the last 45 years.

So this makes it even more of a surprise that the ray has been sighted twice in a matter of weeks swimming around the Great Barrier Reef.

Jacinta Shackleton, a marine biologist and conservationist, saw the first of the two rays on 25 March while she was diving on the reef. She managed to film the unforgettable encounter and uploaded the footage to Instagram.

Shackleton told Newsweek that spotting the rare ray was very emotional.

The island was temporarily closing to guests due to COVID-19 and this was my last morning in the water. So I thought of it as a very special send off!

Just weeks later, she spotted a second of the distinctive ray species, which is nicknamed the "unicorn of the sea" because of its ornate pattern.

I was very determined to get an ID shot of the pattern in its back.

So why is the ray suddenly so sociable? Before we get ahead of ourselves, Shackleton doesn’t believe this has anything to do with the Covid-19 lockdown.

I do not believe it has anything to do with the island being temporarily closed to guests as we don't have all that many people in the water anyway!

The ornate eagle ray is a naturally rare species but conservationists warn populations have declined in recent years. Theydon’t really know how many are left in the wild, only that there’s not many of them. Not much is known about them in general but it is not thought to be harmful to humans as it doesn’t possess a stinging barb (a ray possessing this barb famously killed wildlife expert Steve Irwin).

It’s still huge, though, and can reach lengths of up to 4 metres.

Yeesh.

H/T: Ne​wswe​e​k

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