I am always curious about the mysterious symbols appeared on the Polynesian tattoos. These symbols are representations of cultural appreciation for the native Polynesian people. One types of such tattoos come into my sight are ray tattoos, which triggered my further study of the weird sea animals.
Rays are distant cousins of shark, distinguished by their flat bodies, large triangular pectoral fins that are fused to the head, gill slits on their ventral surfaces. Rays are a type of cartilaginous fish with eyes on the top of its body and a long tail. They do not have stingers on tails as Stingrays. There are documented more than 500 ray species in the world and most of them live on the sea floor, in which Manta ray, stingray, spotted eagle ray are well-known species.
Manta Rays, (Hawaiian name: Hāhālua) live in Polynesian waters as well as tropical to sub-tropical of the Pacific Ocean. Manta ray is the largest of the ray species and one of the largest sea fish in the oceans. They can grow to between 23 feet (7 meters) in width, and can weigh as much as 3,000 pounds.
Manta rays are known for their large size. They never stop swimming, otherwise they would sink and choke. Because of their enormous size, only a few aquariums are large enough to house them. Indigenous Polynesian people saw Manta rays as the symbol of Spirit Guardians representing graceful strength and wisdom. Most rays tattoos we saw are Manta Ray tattoos in tribal designs.
Stingrays are another type of ray living in the tropical and subtropical waters around the world. There are 60 different species of stingrays. Stingrays like to live in deeper waters, whose length is actually longer than width. The largest stingrays can grow to 6.5 feet (1.98 meters) in length and weigh up to 790 pounds. Stingrays are different from Manta rays not just on size, but Stingrays have barbed stingers on the tail, which are used to inject venom to protect against predators. Stingrays normally do not aggressively attack humans, the stingers are used exclusively for self-defense.
Spotted Eagle Ray
The spotted eagle ray, known as the bonnet ray is very distinctive with a its long tail and many white spots on its back surface with several venomous, barbed stingers just behind the pelvic fins. It could grow to as wide as 8 feet (2.5 meters) and 16 feet (5 meters) long with its tail, weighing roughly 507 pounds (230 kg).
Unlike stingrays, spotted Eagle rays tend to live in the open ocean rather than on the sea bottom. Hawaiian Name of Spotted Eagle Ray is “Hailepo”. The hīhīmanu (Spotted Eagle Ray) is an aumakua (guardian spirit) to some Hawaiian families.
Other interesting Rays
- Electric Rays
- Pygmy devil rays