As the once single supercontinent broken apart habitats got separated from each other. Many species, including human beings, could find a place for themselves, satisfying their needs for food and climate. With its rich environment and unique location between Europe and Asia, Anatolia gives shelter many species. Scientists estimate the number of species on Earth as 100 million and so far only 8,7 million of them could be discovered. As the discovered species keep struggling to survive, seas still remain unknown.
The Samandag coast of Hatay
The second longest coastline in the world. This unique coastline lies on the farthest east of the Mediterranean at the southernmost tip of Turkey. These vast blue waters shelter many species which are not well-known. Huge rays coming from the Atlantic Ocean have been living here for millions of years. And fishing nets. Humans hands reaching deep in the ocean. Some of the hundreds of species which meet their end in these nets are very rare. The species in the deep skillfully lurk in dark corners trying to keep a safe distance from humans to survive.
Traces on the sand belong to the spiny butterfly ray or “stake tail” as the locals call it. The traces lead us to the rays’ hidden shelter. All these silent rocks and sands keep many secrets in their bosom. The eyes in the deep belong to rays. This is their land.
As last the spiny butterfly ray which left the traces shows itself. The name comes from the shape of its tail. The spiny ray is a relative of the roughtail stingray from the same family. He is a camouflage expert. He is swimming by flapping his fins as if they are wings. His butterfly-shaped shadow is following him. A rare picture in the sea. Here is a lesser-known side of the seas. Rays flying like birds dozens of meters below the surface. They are exactly how they were 400 millions years ago. They have witnessed the transformation of the world, lasting for millions of years, and many mass extinctions. They were living on the Earth when dinosaurs roamed around. Dinosaurs became extinct, but they still survive.
A small species of the family, Dasyatis Marmorata (Marbled Stingray).
She is quite shy as compared with other species.
And a member of the sea snail family, a sea slug with her stunning colors is moving on the rocks, eating algae.
And as you can see now, the largest member of the family, a gorgeous looking Dasyatis Centroura (Roughtail Stingray).
Although resembling a huge leaf lying quietly on a rock, she poses the greatest threat to humans. Rays are in the same fish class with sharks, and are cartilaginous fish belonging to the family Dasyatidae. Their lifespan is 15 to 25 years. The self-confident roughtail stingray is swimming majestically. A ray can reach 5 meters (16 ft) in length and 600 kg (1322 lbs) in weight.
Their skeletal tissue is similar to nasal and ear cartilages in humans. Their spine running along the length of their round body ends with a long tail. The barb on their tail, reaching 35 centimeters (13 in) in length, is their deadly weapon. Stingray uses its tail to defend itself and stabs its opponent as if the barb is a dagger. The neurotoxic venom injected by the barb paralyses the prey. In ancient Greece, dentists discovered the power of stingray’s venom and used it as anesthetic.
Rays find their prey with the help of electrical sensors they have, not with their eyes. These sensors are activated by some special organs called the ampullae of Lorenzini. The ampullae of Lorenzini are some unique electro-receptors. All living things produce not only heat but electricity as well. It’s not easy for a land animal to detect electrical currents since the air is an insulator. But when it comes to the sea, that’s another story. Electric current flows through water fast, since water is a conductor. It makes it easier for rays to hunt thanks to their sensitive sensors. These perfect electrical sensors are activated by some special organs called the ampullae of Lorenzini.
The sensors detect electric currents so delicately that they can sense low voltages from miles away. The roughtail is gliding into her shelter but it seems that she is not alone in there. Since fishermen are afraid of the venomous barb of rays, they cut the tail off and throw it away. This way which suffered such a misfortune and his mate are waiting silently.
They won’t have to wait long. There are strangers around; they have to leave their shelter right away. The tailless stingray and his mate are now leaving their home. The family’s youngest member is reluctant to follow them. The tailless stingray is slowing down and turning back, waiting the young one to catch up to them. Together with the young one they can finally go away from the strangers. Goby fish which watch them go are lucky to be safe, for now. Just like roughtails, the marbled electric rays sense the danger. The strangers makes them, too, feel anxious and uneasy. The spiny ray which you can recognize by the two white spots beside its eyes, suddenly makes a move.
Marbled rays get uneasier by the moment. This time, danger comes from the land. An illegal fisher throws a dynamite stick into the sea. After a big explosion and tremor, silence prevails. Those who survived the attack are lucky for now but the powerful blast killed many animals in the sea. With their fishnets and dynamite sticks, humans are always there. And knowing this truth, see animals are always restless. Being the vultures of the deep, sea centipedes or fireworms grasp the chance and fight for their share of the feast. Among the dead animals is a guitarfish, a nonvenomous and barbless family of rays, and it provides a delicious feast for the fireworms.
This 1.5-meter (4.8 feed) guitarfish will last them 2 weeks. And, another day turns into night. A new day on the coast of Samandag…
Puffer fish are calm and relaxed since locals never eat them because of their poison. These little predators from the Red Sea are the proof that both the Red Sea and the Mediterranean Sea have the same temperatures and salinity ratios. This slipper lobster on colorful rocks sneaks into its shelter, just like an acrobat. Rays are very active. The spiny ray with white spots is resting on the seabed. It’s not fully covered by sand yet.
The main purpose of white spots beside its eyes is to look scary and surprise his enemies. Considering the amount of sand on it, the other spiny ray seems to have been standing still for a long time. They can remain still for hours as long as active respiration continues. The spiny ray is extremely cautious since its two white spots can easily be spotted although covered by sand. It’s floating away with its huge body raising dust.
The spiny butterfly ray, with its 3-meter-long wing-like fins, is floating in the water like a giant butterfly. The width of its fins is twice its length. Meanwhile, the roughtail stingray is silently waiting under the rock. Am I in danger, he says. The biggest danger comes from humans, no doubt. But rays are lucky since humans find their meat tasteless. And yet, when their luck leaves them, many rays are accidentally caught in fishing nets.
The roughtail manages to survive with its genius skills. The biggest enemy of rays, expect for humans, is a distant relative of them. Sharks. They are trying to keep a safe distance between them. People find rays’ barbs or body parts in the mouth of some sharks that were caught by fishers. Dolphins and seals can’t get along well with rays either.
Mediterranean monk seals (Monachus monachus) which inhabit the coastal caves and crevices in the eastern Mediterranean Sea are trying to survive in these waters. It is estimated that approximately 110 of them live in Turkey. One of those seals comes close to the roughtail stingray, but it doesn’t get too close. It is a disturbing experience for both of them to share the same territory. By clapping its jaw, the seal makes a sound to show its annoyance and swims away.
The roughtail feels restless. A slight movement is enough to rise up the sand on the sea floor and make water cloudy. Cloudy water is essential for rays to feed on and hide. A roughtail stingray uses his whole body as a fin. While swimming, it tries to be close to the seafloor and the rocks. Although the ray seems to use its tail for maneuvers, the main function of the tail is to provide protection against dangers. The ray seems calm, relaxed, and powerful but it doesn’t mean that it will not use the lethal dagger on its tail. Maybe the documentary producer Steve Irwin, nicknamed “The Crocodile Hunter” was fooled by this calm look of it. And his last words were “I am dying.”
In the land of rays, scads peacefully live with their neighbors. As a sea anemone retracts its tentacles into its body, a small school of curious leer fish is swimming nearby. Eagle ray, or “beaked ray” as the local fishermen call it, is one of the 90 known ray species on Earth. Another species is Taeniura grabata, or the round fantail stingray which differs from the roughtail stingray in that the fantail has small dark spots on its body. It comes from far away, from the Atlantic Ocean.
Sightings of this species in the Mediterranean Sea are very rare and it can reach 1.5 meters (4.9 feet) in length at the most. It has a symbiotic relationship with remoras. The remora eats parasites on the ray and helps keep the ray clean. As Taeniura gradate discards the leftovers, opportunist remora is there to take its share. The sand is a perfect food source for rays. It has an extensive menu which offers shellfish, gobies, and crabs. As the sun sets, the darkness creeps in. Weather conditions can change any moment and the calm weather can turn into a stormy one. There is no more sunlight. It’s time to hunt for preys and try not to be hunted.
Using its bright color and bioluminescence, the squid has developed a hypnosis skill. The Balearic conger burrows into the sand to hide from enemies and not to starve. The cuttlefish, crab, spiny ray, and others are preparing for the night. It’s a tough world where only the strongest can survive. Scads are fiddling around. A cornetfish is awake and even a little curious. Weevers are at sleep. Flying gurnard and its wings add a magical touch to the night. Nudibranch does not get annoyed with the sleepwalking weever. On the other hand, bearded fireworms are venomous and painful.
All the traps necessary for a night hunt are ready. Crab makes a move to get the little fish caught in its trap. It’s a life-and-death struggle between fins and claws. A momentary lapse of attention may cost them a life. Danger may come from any direction. Red mullets live in shoals and inhabit sandy and muddy bottoms of warmer waters, but this one is alone. Weevers are still sleeping, but octopus is quite busy. If you want to survive, you need to either hide or swim fast. Every sea creature has developed a defense system of its own. Some learned to change their colors, some hide, and some use electricity in order to survive. The male spiny ray has already eaten its dinner. In plankton-rich water, it swam away into the darkness.
The female spiny ray is as impressive as the male. Performing a nifty maneuver among planktons, she floats and vanishes into the dark. A sea cucumber can liquefy its body, pour itself into a crack in a rock, and then turn into solid form again. This one moves closer to a rare anemone. Taeniura gradate which you can recognize by its brown spots is waiting under a rock. The playful marbled stingray is still roaming around. Night is very busy in the land of rays. If a leopard moray eel, which has a strong jaw and sharp teeth, is out in the open, it means it is quite hungry. Weevers are in a deep sleep and they don’t care about anything…
A new day on the coast of Samandag, Hatay.
Global warming and environmental pollution threaten sea life. Overfishing and illegal fishing cause harm to the marine ecosystem and even destroys it. That’s the absolute truth. But humans never stop. The grey triggerfish is quite anxious about the noise which doesn’t belong to marine life.
On the other hand, the cornetfish doesn’t seem so worried. It is the end of the road for both the triggerfish and the cornetfish. The sea has lost more species and the balance of food cycle is further disturbed.
And yet, these noises are quite familiar to some other creatures. This Himantura uarnak, or the honeycomb stingray, which had its tail cut off by fishermen suddenly rises from the seabed where it’s lying.
First the tailless ray and then the honeycomb stingray swim away. Another honeycomb stingray sensing the imminent danger flicks its tail and glides away. Engine sounds of boats make the sea creatures feel uncomfortable. Once fishing is over and noises die away, life becomes normal again in the land of rays. Little purple sea slugs are safe for now. The lion fish, native to the Red Sea, which can be deadly with his venomous spines is also safe. When things calm down, two sea slugs, after a brief courtship, begin mating. Hermaphroditic sea slugs are luckier than the other sea creatures in finding mates.
Once they’re 4 years old, roughtail stingrays which usually live alone come together every December to mate and reproduce. If a female cannot find a mate she uses the sperms she stored previous years to get fertilized. The feature that distinguishes males from females is that males have claspers at the base of their tail. At the mating season, male’s rounded teeth undergo a transformation and become sharp. Male’s sharp teeth make it easier to grip female.
After mating, the female protects its eggs in an egg case. The offspring develop in eggs inside the womb.
The gestation period can last from 4 months to 1 year. Babies come out of the eggs and delivery occurs. If the mother is in danger, she may induce labor before embryos are matured. With every birth 2-9 baby stingrays meet the sea. Baby stingrays, since their barbs are developed before birth, join the sea life as little grown-ups.
Another day on the Samandag coast…
A large school of scad and cave fish swim in a shipwrecked boat. The tailless roughtail’s baby suddenly feels an urge to hide. A young stingray waits in a nook. And Marbled stingrays swim with panic. Sea creatures seem uneasy, desperately running and hiding away. And the same sound again. A fearful wait, and a complete chaos. When a dragger lets its trawl into the sea and pulls it along the sea bottom hell breaks loose. Mothers scamper for their lives; desperate babies don’t know what to do. The mother roughtail gets away, but some young rays are not so lucky. At the last moment, fishermen notice the young roughtail which was caught into the net. Lucky for him.
As humans fish for the continuance of their species, they don’t even realize how much harm they cause to the sea life. It’s not easy to escape from huge fishing nets. There are some baby rays in the nets. All the marine animals on board face the same fate: death. The last moments for young rays lost among the fish in the net. Their only hope is if fishermen will see them before it’s too late.
Luckily this baby ray goes back into the sea. Flapping its gorgeous wings it swims away. If it can stay away from humans, it will live a long life. At the coast of Samandag boats, an invention of man, are everywhere. Fishing nets, trawls, and dynamite. On the other hand, rays under the water have been living there for 400 million years. They have survived many major changes and transformations, and mass extinctions on Earth. But this time the threat comes from humans. What will the future bring them?