Enormous Spotted Eagle Ray Filmed Leaping From Water off Florida Coast

A spotted eagle ray has been filmed jumping high out of the ocean off the coast of St. Petersburg, Florida.

The video, which was featured in a viral Reddit post, shows the huge ray leaping from the water and landing with a splash, scaring away its companion.

The user who filmed the video, SeeThroughCanoe, commented below the post that eagle rays are tricky to catch on film at all, let alone performing a behavior like breaching.

"The rays are tricky because there's no indication that they're going to jump, it's usually unexpected," he said.

Scientists don't know why rays jump, as pictured in the video, although some have speculated that females may leap to avoid unwanted male attention. Or perhaps the ray is attempting to shake off parasites—eagle rays, as with many other pelagic marine creatures, are plagued with both internal and external parasites, mostly gathering on their gills.

Alternative suggestions include the possibility that the rays jump for fun, in the same way that dolphins do.

Eagle rays are found all around the world in tropical open waters, but they are often sighted near coral reefs. They can grow to up to 30 feet in total length, with a maximum weight of around 500 pounds.

eagle ray
Stock image: a spotted eagle ray swimming near a sheer reef wall in Grand Cayman. Matt Potenski/iStock / Getty Images Plus

They usually swim near the surface of the water, and will often form large groups when they're not in breeding season. They are often seen off the Florida coast, where this video was recorded.

"Most of the ones I see are in the gulf and hang about 40-200 feet from shore over the grass beds," said SeeThroughCanoe in a comment on the viral Reddit post. "I also see them way up into the bay as well, but not as many. December to March I still see some in the bay, but not many. I usually see a few every week but I spend most of my days on the water."

Newsweek asked SeeThroughCanoe for comment.

Listed as near threatened by the IUCN Red list, populations of spotted eagle rays are in decline. While not a target of fishing, they are often captured as accidental bycatch in fisheries targeting other species, and injured by fishing waste materials and plastic pollution.

They are also regularly predated upon by sharks, especially when young. They cannot easily recover their populations, however, as each female can only give birth to a maximum of four young at a time, once per year. The combination of these factors has led populations to drop by an estimated 50–79 percent over the past 30 years.