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Sharks & Rays

Larger fish (usually on the outer reef) include sharks (with their often attached sharksuckers), barracuda, and pelagic fish such as rainbow runners.  Getting pictures is tricky with our small camera and the strobe which has a limited distance.  We are often more than 10 meters (33 feet) down when we encounter these larger fish, and so the light is very blue.  The dots you see on some of the shots are called "backscatter" and result from particles in the water reflecting the light from the flash back at the camera.  The rays we encounter are often in shallower water either near the boat or where we snorkel.

Blacktipped Reef sharks abound in French Polynesia Blacktipped Reef sharks are usually harmless
Blacktip Reef Sharks abound in
French Polynesia.  They're usually harmless,
but their presence can be unnerving. (Moorea)

Blacktip Reef Sharks Carcharhinus melanopterus are the most common sharks encountered in the waters of French Polynesia.  They may be inside or outside lagoons, and although the book says they are rarely found below 65 feet (20m),  Jon did a dive in the Tuamotus and reported that the canyons at 90 feet were filled with blacktips.  They are not considered dangerous, and we got quite used to swimming with them.  In the Tuamotus, they were ubiquitous, but sometimes not visible until we threw biodegradable garbage over the side.  Then they and many larger reef fish would swarm our boat.  With their light brownish-gray back and lighter undersides, they look soft (which they're not) and almost puppy-like in their enthusiasm to investigate the goings on around the boats. (photo: Moorea, Fr. Polynesia)

The Whitetip Reef Shark Triaenodon obesus grows to 6.5 ft (2m) and is characterized by the white tips on the first dorsal and the upper tail lobe. The silvertip shark is very similar, except with white tips on the pectorals as well, and is considered dangerous.
Our first sighting of whitetips was in the Galapagos, when we saw from shore about 6 of them circling in the shallows. We also dove with them in the Tuamotus, though they weren't as abundant as the black-tipped. And at a resort in Fiji, a lone whitetip occasionally made an appearance at their fish-feeding station. (Tenia, New Caledonia)

White Tip Reef Shark
Giant Manta Rays are magnificent creatures Giant Mantas Manta birostris are the largest of the rays, sometimes growing to be 22 ft (6.7 m) across, though mostly the ones we see are only 6-10 ft (2-3 m). They are unlike most other rays in several ways, more than just their size. Mantas are plankton-feeders, as opposed to the bottom-feeder stingrays. Their gaping mouth is in the front of their head, and mantas frequently swim through currents, using their two characteristic movable flaps to direct direct the plankton in. Mantas do not have stingers like other rays, and their tails are comparatively short for their bodies.
Some places in Fiji and the Maldives are known for mantas, and you can see dozens if not hundreds feeding in the same current at the same time. We have never witnessed this, however, and each sighting of a manta ray is special. In Komodo National Park, one bay had a daily manta visitor whenever the tide was right. We hopped in to snorkel with it, which is where we got this picture.
While mantas are distinctive underwater, we've been startled a time or two on the surface when it looked like a shark fin was cruising towards us. No need to panic - Mantas (and eagle rays, actually) frequently lift their triangular fins out of the water when swimming near the surface.
Perhaps because of their size and feeding style, manta rays prefer open water to 80 ft (24 m). Photo by Sue Hacking
The Tahitian Stingray Himantura fai with its disk up to 1 meter or more is a commonly seen ray on the sandbanks of the French Polynesian lagoons.  These animals have a tail nearly three times the length of the disk, with a single sharp spine.  Some dive operators have been feeding the rays in Moorea, and it's possible to wade in waist deep water and hold out shrimp for the rays to suck (like a vacuum cleaner) into their mouths.  The bellies of the rays are surprisingly soft, like silk.  The animals are unafraid of humans in these conditions and will nudge and bump anyone they can in hopes of a handout.  They leave their stingers down while feeding.  The main danger is if you inadvertently step on a resting ray buried in the sand. (photo: Fr. Polynesia)
The Tahitian Stingray - click on the image to see his stinger
The Tahitian Stingray
Click on the image to see the stinger
The back half of a thorny stingray protrudes from the coral Rays are relatively shy creatures, often burying in sand, or in the case of this Thorny Stingray Urgymnus asperrimus, resting half under a coral shelf in shallow water. With a disc of about one meter, this pale gray to brown stingray has a tail of about similar length. Its back is covered by many "thorns" and the disc is humped in the middle. (New Caledonia)
Most of the spotted eagle rays that we've seen have been between 4 and 6 feet (about 1-2m) wingtip to wingtip, although some references suggest they can get over 11 ft (3m). Unlike many other rays the Spotted Eagle Ray Aetobatus narinari has a very triangular disc, more like wings, with a protruding head. They're black to gray-brown with many white spots on the back, and a white underside. Their long tail has only a single spine. Spotted eagle rays are found in all tropical and warm temperate seas around the world, and we saw them first in the Caribbean, idly swimming around a rocky outcropping. At anchor in the Galapagos we saw a fleet of 10 or 12 cruising over a clear sandy bottom. (Galapagos Islands) Spotted Eagle Ray
Sharksuckers tried to attach to us in Moorea
Shark-suckers tried to attach to us in Moorea

The shark-sucker Echeneis naucrates (not related to sharks, but living in close community with them) is a species of remora.  They grow to over 3 feet (1 meter), and are pale gray to nearly black with a white line.  The ones we most commonly saw were pale gray to almost white.  They attach themselves to sharks, mantas, sea turtles, or large fish via a suction disk on the top of their flat heads.  They are then in a prime position to feed on the scraps from the bigger fish feeding.  In the Tuamotus, one attached itself to the keel of Ocelot for a week, riding with us from one anchorage to the next, a distance of over 20 miles within one lagoon.  Old sailors used to believe that they were bad luck, and could slow even a big ship down to a crawl.  They can also be pesky to divers, trying to attach to legs, torso, or tanks.  To disengage them, you have to push them forward. (photo: Moorea, Fr. Polynesia)

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