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The eagle ray family is a large group of cartilaginous fish that contains at least three subfamilies and several different species of ray. A generally large group, the eagle ray species inhabit oceans throughout the world, though most prefer tropical and temperate seas. It is important to not that not all biologists agree on which species are technically eagle rays, and which constitute their own group. Some authorities list manta and cow-nosed rays in the eagle ray subfamilies, but others separate them entirely.
The graceful spotted eagle ray, part of the Aetobatus subfamily, may be the most striking member of the group. Dark blue or grey, this large ray is covered with light colored spots and is frequently seen in shallow, tropical waters. Though venomous, the spotted ray is generally quite gentle and a frequent companion to divers and snorkelers. Reaching up to an impressive 500 lbs (226.7 kg) in weight, the spotted ray can have a wingspan of 10 ft (3 m).
The bat ray is a plentiful species that lives in the shallow bays and coves of the Eastern Pacific Ocean. Though a commercial fish in Mexico and parts of Central America, the bat ray is protected throughout the United States. This type of eagle ray is a frequent inhabitant of large aquariums, some of which allow visitors to touch or even feed the rays. The bat ray is known as an adaptable creature, able to adjust to different levels of salinity and temperature with relative ease.
One of the smaller species, the longnosed eagle ray is an increasingly rare sight in its natural habitat throughout Southeast Asia. Considered endangered and in decline by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), this little ray suffers from a low reproduction rate and a rapidly increasing fisheries market. Commercial mining and drilling of the continental shelves where the longnosed ray tends to live is also believed to be a factor in its decline.
King among all ray species is the enormous and dramatic manta ray. Though considered a separate genus by some, it is still frequently listed as a member of the eagle ray family. With a wingspan of up to 25 ft (7.6 m), these harmless giants inhabit most of the tropical and temperate oceans in the world, and were once feared as terrible sea monsters. Eventually, people learned that the enormous sea creature was a relatively harmless and retiring fish, despite its occasional and understandably startling habit of launching itself completely out of the water. Like the longnosed ray, however, mantas are believed to be in decline due to decreasing food supply and a low birth rate.