The region's seas are proving a veritable aquatic playground for rare marine life with many special sightings in recent months.

Just last week a rare albino green turtle hatchling was seen making its way to the water on Lady Elliot Island and a whale shark was seen off Lady Musgrave Island.

Now a large number of cownose rays were spotted off Lady Elliot Island, a sight rarely seen in the waters off the tiny coral cay.

The fever of rays were spotted by Lady Elliot Island Master Reef Guide Jacinta Shackleton as she was snorkelling.

She said it looked like the rays were "dancing in sync across the reef".

Ms Shackleton estimated between 80 and 110 rays in the group.

"I've been conducting research on the reef off Lady Elliot Island for three years and I've never seen a cownose ray before," she said.

The cownose ray is aptly named after the unique shape of their head, which from above, looks like a cow's nose.

"It was stunning to turn around and see such a large group of these distinctive rays swimming in only five metres of water. The shape of their heads was just so strange to see, two lobes just like a cow's nose," Ms Shackleton said.

"It is one of my 'magic moments' on the reef where I'm just blown away by what I'm seeing and completely absorbed in that moment."

Lady Elliot Island Master Reef Guide Jacinta Shackleton came across a group of cownose rays while snorkelling off Lady Elliot Island. Photo: Jacinta Shackleton
Lady Elliot Island Master Reef Guide Jacinta Shackleton came across a group of cownose rays while snorkelling off Lady Elliot Island. Photo: Jacinta Shackleton

 

Dr Andrew Chin from the Centre for Sustainable Tropical Fisheries and Aquaculture at James Cook University said not much is known about cownose rays in Australia.

"Because they are rarely sighted, the cownose ray is not well documented across the Great Barrier Reef or in Australian waters, so it's fantastic to have that record from Ms Shackleton so we can try and learn more about them and their movements," Dr Chin said.

"The species is listed as Data Deficient by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List, so we don't really know how they're faring from a conservation or threat point of view. We think they tend to travel in these large groups and that their appearances could be seasonal.

"I'd encourage anyone who comes across the distinctive cownose ray to report the sighting so that we can gather as much information as possible to better understand the species."

Sightings of the cownose ray can be recorded via the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority's Eye on the Reef App.

This is Ms Shackleton's second extraordinary ray sighting off Lady Elliot Island in twelve months, following her encounter with an ornate eagle ray in March last year.

The ornate eagle ray is so rare there had been little more than 50 sightings of the species worldwide at the time.

 

 

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