Riddle of the Rays

The secret lives of stingrays are revealed for the first time in this fascinating investigation of one of nature’s most puzzling and unusual undersea rituals.

Produced by NHNZ

Far below the towering cliffs of a rocky island, a group of huge animals hover motionless in the gloom of a huge underwater cave. At over 12 feet in length, and weighing up to 150 pounds, they drift like unearthly squadrons of living stealth bombers in their hidden gathering place.

Why a coastal creature that has forsaken the deep should return for an eerie and hazardous rendezvous in an ocean cave is the intriguing riddle this film sets out to answer.

For ten months of the year, the enigmatic Black Ray inhabits the coastal shallows of mainland New Zealand. A high-tech shadow, she is armed with a barbed tail putrid with toxins and bacteria and capable of piercing a person’s sternum with razor sharp accuracy. But for all her fearsome weaponry, the ray is also a surprisingly gentle creature that can be hand fed, even in the wild.

It’s in the artificial environment of an aquarium that one of her species’ most remarkable attributes appears. For here rays demonstrate a sophisticated sense of timing with which they have learnt to anticipate the exact time of their weekly feeding sessions, gathering well before keepers begin their preparations.

This acute sense of timing is just one element of a remarkable range of biotechnology rays have evolved. They also possess an array of ultra-sophisticated technology that makes them masters of stealth. The ray’s entire body is merged into a single giant sensor which enables them to detect a single drop of blood from 50 yards, and hear tiny sounds from 250 yards.

It’s technology the ray will need if she is to defend herself against her greatest foe―the smart and deadly Orca.

Finding sanctuary in a sheltered harbour, the ray soon establishes mastery over the shallows of her new domain. Here she has unchallenged access to acres of shellfish beds and fish nurseries. Visibly pregnant, she will spend the winter here in the mangrove swamps sustaining her developing embryos.

But in the spring, she abandons both her coastal sanctuary and her newly born young in answer to a more compelling call.

In an arduous voyage across the open ocean, this normally solitary creature is called to a gathering of black rays in the submarine caves below New Zealand’s Poor Knights Islands.

Here they hang trance-like and motionless, waiting for the signal to begin a ritual that will continue for two full months―a ritual that, until now, has never before been observed.

Ray mating is startling. But this dramatic climax in gothic underwater vaults ultimately provides both new generations of these remarkable creatures―and the answer to a fascinating riddle.

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