SHOVELNOSE RAY AT 'STINGRAY CITY'
by Larry Lam
It was a lovely afternoon on the 8th of June. The sky was exceptionally blue and clear. The sun was shining bright. Our check with the local tide table indicated that tide was receding and current could be strong. We were going to be with students doing their Open Water training dive 3. The group was a collection of 7 divers (Tee, Pan, Olivia, Letitia, Chuan, Kevin and Lam). Mr Tee, our dive leader decided to dive a site which was least affected by the current and tide.
The dive site chosen was the coral fringe west of the islands of Kerengga Besar and Kerengga Kecil. It's location is a short 4 minute boat ride from the dive centre. The coral slopes down from 25 feet (8 metres) and bottoms out at maximum depth of 45 feet (14 metres).
Interesting small coral patches are found scattered around the sandy bottom. We have seen moray eels and rays there in our previous dives. The fringe coral has several mounts and swim throughs. The hard corals make a very picturesque seascape. We had observed feeding turtles and schooling humphead parrotfish here and sharks too!
The students practised their giant stride entry and free descent. After completing the bouyancy exercises, we proceeded to explore the site, heading towards the deeper waters at the fringes of the coral patch. The coral bed consists mainly of boulder corals and staghorns.
As we approached the edge, we detected something long and dark lying about 10 metres away on the sand. After visually signalling to the other divers to slow down, we cautiously finned towards the object. As we got closer, we realised we have chanced upon a 6 footer (2 metres) white spotted shovelnose ray (Rhynchobatus djiddensis). It was resting on the sand with its tail towards us. Pan sounded his horn to signal to Tee and the rest of the divers with him. We then moved slowly nearer to its left side.
The animal has several white spots on its grey upper body. It has an odd looking shape. The head is a front of a ray while body is a muscular trunk of a shark. The locals call it 'guitar ray' or 'diamond shark'.
As we were about to settle on the sand (3 metres away from it), the creature gracefully braced itself. Then with a gentle flick of its powerful tail, it propelled into the blue yonder. The whole episode lasted 2 minutes.
This is the closest we have ever got to a shovel nose ray. They are normally quite skittish and would speed off almost immediately upon detecting the presence of divers. We were fortunate that it has allowed us to come so near. Our encounter with this shy creature has made this an unsual and memorabable dive.
Three quarter of the way into the dive, Tee sent Pan to look for the nurse shark that is sometimes seen resting in one of the swim throughs. No luck! We frequently take the more experienced divers through the belly of this cluster of coral and rock.
Other interesting creatures sighted during the dive included several blue spotted rays, one black ray seeking refuge under a table top coral and one gray sand ray 'dozing' on the sand between two giant boulder coral.
This must be the reason some divers refer to Kerengga as 'Stingray City of Redang'.
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Last updated: 21st November, 2003.