A few weeks ago I wrote about the dawn rays at Villa del Faro, when I saw the jumping fish coming out of the water and slap down in almost-graceful belly flops. I finally got a little footage of the interesting behavior in the video above, and I found an article from BBC Earth that covers the topic – in the Gulf of California, no less – while still not providing an explanation for why the rays jump like they do:
Soaring high above the waves as easily as a bird, mobula rays appear perfectly designed for this astonishing aerobatic display.
Closely related to sharks but with long, flat bodies and wing-like pectoral fins, they are ideally suited to swooping through the water yet seem equally at home in the air, so much so that they have earned the name “flying rays”.
Mobula rays can reach heights of more than two metres (6ft 6ins), remaining airborne for several seconds, but their landings are much less graceful, creating a loud bang as they belly-flop back into the sea.
This behaviour – filmed in the Gulf of California, Mexico, as part of a new BBC / Discovery coproduction television series – can last for 24 hours and happens as many hundreds of rays shoal together to form huge aggregations.
“Sitting in a boat in the midst of these aggregations is akin to sitting in a pot of popcorn as the kernels explode into the air. Everywhere you look mobulas are leaping out of the water and landing with a loud smack, sometimes just a couple of meters from you,” says Joshua Stewart, from the Gulf of California Marine Program at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, who studies rays in Mexico and across the world.
“The mobulas launch themselves straight up out of the water at top speed, and most often they land flat on their belly. However, sometimes they seem to lose control and do flips and twists before reconnecting with the water.”
Read the rest of the article by Zoe Gough here.