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Flying with Bull Rays

In 2011, Sharklab-Malta recorded the presence of a bull ray (Aetomylaeus bovinus) in Maltese waters for the first time, subsequently publishing a scientific paper. Since this first sighting Sharklab has continued to collect reports and pictures of this amazing species. 

How did the Fly with Bull Rays project begin?

In 2015, Silvio Solleliet-Ferreira started an internship as a Masters student from La Rochelle University with the objective “To study the local population of Aetomylaeus bovinus, using their natural dorsal patterns and develop a simple photo identification process to identify the number of individuals present”. Silvio spent 5 months snorkeling around Malta, gathering pictures of Bull rays and creating a simple identification process. It was during this experience with Sharklab-Malta that he really discovered his passion for sharks and rays, and decided to study behavioral ecology and conservation of apex predators.


Around this time the “International Union for Conservation of Nature” (IUCN) had classified the species as Data Deficient (DD) in the Mediterranean Sea. In 2016, the species jumped from the status Data Deficient (DD) to Critically Endangered (Cr); the last step before extinction.


Since then, while studying in the Azores, Silvio decided to act for the conservation of bull rays across the Mediterranean and created the project “Fly With Bull Rays” (FWBR), to start studying bull ray (Aetomylaeus bovinus) populations in terms of size, trend, habitat, ecology and threats on a wider scale. Interns at Sharklab-Malta now use an intraspecific and non-invasive photo-identification methodology for the species which was developed during Silvio's internship in Malta.

If you would like to learn more about the Fly with Bull Rays project, be sure to check out the project website here.

The Fly with Bull Rays project is one of our most successful projects at Sharklab-Malta. with interns conducting many snorkel surveys documenting each individual bull ray they see with photographs.  These sightings are recorded on Manta Matcher – a worldwide database which helps us to track the distribution and migrations of this species.  These rays are critically endangered and there is not enough data about them. 

We have evidence that Malta is a nursery area and are hoping to gain protection for this species.

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