In a scientific first, researchers have tagged wild smalleye stingrays, the world’s largest and rarest marine stingray, in Mozambique. These monstrous Pacific Ocean fish, which can reach up to 10 feet long, are so rarely seen, they’re likely a critically endangered species.
After weeks of surveying the coast off the Bazaruto Archipelago, National Geographic Explorer and ray expert Andrea Marshall finally spotted a smalleye in shallow water. She dove in, and, with a six-foot-long pole, lightly touched the animal, taking a small skin sample from its underside. The fish remained calm, which was a good sign: Smalleyes have a stinging spine the length of a human forearm. Any wrong move “would put us in mortal danger,” she says.
Following that first successful experiment, Marshall and colleagues spent months locating more smalleyes, which favor a particular stretch of the Mozambican coast. The scientists dove at dawn, the most likely time to see a smalleye, and focused on reefs that already had documented sightings of the fish. (Read how some stingrays can make sound.)
In all, the team managed to attach tags—including acoustic and satellite—to 11 individual smalleyes, which are named for their tiny, raisin-sized eyes.