Biologists Identify New Whipray Species
July 29, 2013

Biologists Identify New Whipray Species

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

Biologists say they have identified a new ocellated whipray species after analyzing tissues samples collected in various parts of the Indio-Pacific region.

The scientists said they were able to describe leopard-skin whiprays in detail and demonstrate that they are isolated from each other in terms of reproduction. They were also able to discover a new species they call Himantura tutu, which is part of a genetic line totally distinct from the three other species that are known in the same group.

Himantura tutu was discovered by Institute of Development Research (IRD) researchers and their partners in Indonesia and Taiwan. This species was originally thought to have been associated with ocellated whiprays' sister species.

The studies help assess the state of these whipray populations and improve their conservation. Having an understanding of the biological characteristics of each species will help redefine the minimum size for fishing purposes in order to avoid catching juveniles that belong to the larger species.

Scientists say that determining the species' geographical distribution and habitats will make it possible to protect the breeding and nursery habitats of each species.

Ocellated whiprays can grow to over 5 feet five wide and start breeding at the age of five to ten years old. They are fished for food and their skin, which is sold to tanneries in South-East Asia. This group is threatened almost throughout the tropical Indo-West Pacific.

Overfishing ocellated whiprays could eventually jeopardize a whole segment of the economy in Indonesia, which is the largest shark and whipray exploiter and has 30 percent of all catches worldwide. Ocellated whiprays have one or two venom glands at the base of their tail to protect them against sharks and killer whales. Their sting is so painful and infectious that it could lead to serious consequences if not treated properly.

The scientists say that in less than 20 years, the amount of whiprays fished in the Java Sea has been divided by ten. This species plays an important ecological role in regulating ecosystems because they are considered to be a high-level predator. If this species goes extinct, it could threaten the functioning of coastal marine environments.

Earlier this month locals in the town of Ursulo Galvan in Mexico found hundreds of dead stingrays on the Chachalacas beach. Reports said that fisherman ditched over 250 stingray carcasses on the beach after they were unable to get a good price for them.