August 9, 2012
By Nathan Chen
So this Monday marked my first official swim in the ocean, (and by that I mean with goggles and actually swimming; don’t worry I’ve been in the ocean before) and call it corny but it taught me some things. For starters, I’m pretty wimpy when it comes to being alone in the water. Be it too many shark week episodes where the lone man gets dragged underwater by some unseen entity, or past stigmas by my over cautious parents who themselves were never too big on water, there is just something scary about putting half my body into something that is cold, dark, and full of other creatures that have bigger teeth than I do. That said, when I finally decided to man up and start actually swimming (rather than cowering by the dock and staring at my feet in the dark) I began to explore the sea life around me.
One of the first significantly freaky things I saw was a bat ray laying half buried on the bottom of the sand. Now I know (rather I was told while frantically flailing my arms to get out of dodge) that bat rays aren’t exactly the kind of species one should necessarily be afraid of, but it was either its eerie shape or just the fact that it was laying half buried (obviously waiting to eat me whole) that made me swim back to shore with more motivation than I otherwise would have. Today, sitting at a dry desk with my feet on solid ground I decided to learn more about the bat ray, so that in the future when we go snorkeling I can at least pretend to not be such a wimp.
The bat ray is a bottom dweller, living on mud bottoms at depths up to 50m. (1) They have flattened triangular bodies that are wider than they are long, as well as a long tail studded with up to 5 poisonous spines. (2) If this doesn’t sound scary enough to an inexperienced ocean visitor as myself, the bat ray can grow to 6 feet in width and weigh over 200 pounds. (1) Add to that its ability to live and breath underwater, and that’s already 5 distinct advantages it has on me.
Luckily however, the bat ray doesn’t feed on humans, nor does it spend its days hunting for people to torment them with its poisonous spines- instead it feeds on small bony fishes, worms, abalone, and small crabs. The bat ray also remains solitary for the most part, sticking to itself unless mating or feeding- which is lucky for me since I can just avoid one instead of five.
Perhaps the most interesting fact about the bat ray however, is its adaptive camouflage abilities. From a birds eye perspective, the bat ray blends into the dark ocean floor, but to a fish below the bat ray, all that is seen is light coming in from the surface. This camouflage ability makes it hard for the bat ray to be attacked by any potential predator, and makes it easier for them to catch unsuspecting prey. Unbeknownst to them however, the paranoid human eye can detect its presence even from distances natural predators may not be able to, though at least this body of that eye knows to keep a safe length away – I obviously just don’t want to scare it.
About the author: Nathan Chen is a second year Environmental Studies major with a minor in business. His passions are found on dry land, in physical activities where he knows where the other half of his body is.