Extreme diving behaviour in devil rays links surface waters and the deep ocean

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Nature Communications 5, Article number: 4274 doi:10.1038/ncomms5274

Simon R. Thorrold, Pedro Afonso, Jorge Fontes, Camrin D. Braun, Ricardo S. Santos, Gregory B. Skomal & Michael L. Berumen

Abstract 

Ecological connections between surface waters and the deep ocean remain poorly studied despite the high biomass of fishes and squids residing at depths beyond the euphotic zone. These animals likely support pelagic food webs containing a suite of predators that include commercially important fishes and marine mammals. Here we deploy pop-up satellite archival transmitting tags on 15 Chilean devil rays (Mobula tarapacana) in the central North Atlantic Ocean, which provide movement patterns of individuals for up to 9 months. Devil rays were considered surface dwellers but our data reveal individuals descending at speeds up to 6.0 m s−1 to depths of almost 2,000 m and water temperatures <4 °C. The shape of the dive profiles suggests that the rays are foraging at these depths in deep scattering layers. Our results provide evidence of an important link between predators in the surface ocean and forage species occupying pelagic habitats below the euphotic zone in ocean ecosystems.

 

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