One of the world’s largest species of ray on the planet, the Giant Devil Ray, is in imminent danger of extinction and the U.S. should move to place them on the endangered species list, Friends of Animals said in a legal petition filed today with federal officials.
The species, mostly found in the Mediterranean Sea and Northeast Atlantic, is struggling to survive amidst human development, fishing, climate change, water pollution as well as the onslaught of microplastics.
“Human activity has put the future of these fascinating, acrobatic animals in danger,’’ said Jennifer Best, assistant legal director for the Friends of Animals Wildlife Law Program. “This petition is a critical step to protect these animals from human exploitation and aid in their recovery.”
The International Union for Conservation of Nature determined that the number of Giant Devil Rays is decreasing, with a population loss of 50 percent occurring over the last three generations, FoA’s petition filed with the U.S. Secretary of Commerce and the National Marine Fisheries Service noted.
One key reason is the exploitation of Giant Devil Rays for meat consumption, filler for shark fin soup and medicinal purposes. Demand for gill plates from Giant Devil Rays is high in eastern Asia where they are the key ingredient in tonic medicine purported to prevent sickness by improving the immune system and enhancing blood circulation, though there is no proof. As shark cartilage is becoming more difficult to source due to overexploitation, fishers are seeking ray cartilage as cheap substitutes. Also, their skins are often used to create various leather products.
Water pollution has also degraded their nursing and spawning habitats. Coastal reefs in tropical and subtropical water are preferred habitats for rays, which feed on plankton and krill, and have been ruined from water pollution.
They are also often swept up in massive fishing net walls as bycatch. A projected decline in zooplankton due to climate change is endangering their food supply as well.
The Giant Devil Ray, which can grow up to 20 feet in length and has a wingspan of 17 feet, helps balance nutrient levels of ecosystems and the loss of the species could cause drastic changes in the Mediterranean ecosystems.
Devil Rays are some of the deepest, fastest divers in the oceans. They are beloved for their water acrobatics, where they somersault in the air before belly flopping back into the ocean, trying to impress future mates. Females hatch just one pup after gestating eggs for more than two years.
“The Giant Devil Ray is one of the most majestic creatures of the ocean,’’ said Manda Neuman, a student at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law who worked on the petition. “Losing this species would be a devastating loss not only to the ocean’s ecosystem but to the many people that wish to see this species in its natural habitat.”