SINGAPORE - A video clip of an eagle ray being reeled in at East Coast Park has been shared widely on social media since last Friday (May 28).
The three-minute clip starts with an angler doggedly pulling and tugging at his fishing rod as more than 10 bystanders watch.
About two minutes into the clip, three individuals help to pull the fishing line and the eagle ray appears - to the exclamation of onlookers. The ray is then dragged to shore as it thrashes its fins.
The clip was uploaded by Facebook user Raymond Khoo last Friday. As at Sunday, it had been shared by about 2,600 netizens.
When contacted, Mr Khoo said the clip was forwarded to him by a friend, and he did not know what happened to the ray. He confirmed that the incident took place near Bedok Jetty.
Marine Stewards Singapore, a conservation group, said it occurred at May 3 at 4.45pm.
The Straits Times received another WhatsApp video which showed the ray’s head being impaled with a large hook so that it could be dragged onto the beach.
ST also received a photo which showed two individuals dragging the dead ray along the jetty.
Dr Karenne Tun, director of the National Parks Board’s (NParks) National Biodiversity Centre, identified the eagle ray species as the white-spotted eagle ray, or Aetobatus ocellatus.
National University of Singapore (NUS) marine biologist Huang Danwei said three species of eagle rays have been recorded in Singapore, of which the white-spotted eagle ray is the most frequently detected.
It is classified as a vulnerable species on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List of Threatened Species.
This means that the animal is at risk of extinction, said Assistant Professor Huang, who is from NUS' department of biological sciences.
This is not the first time that a ray was caught by anglers in Singapore.
In July last year, a huge 80kg honeycomb whipray was caught at Bedok Jetty, after a three-hour tussle with an angler. Video clips of the gigantic ray being sliced up were also shared online.
Mr Kelvin Lim, curator of vertebrate collections at the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum in NUS, said leisure fishermen are usually unable to tell if they have caught an endangered fish, but if they do reel in one, they should release it if the animal is alive and not too seriously injured.
"The animals do get injured when they are hooked, usually at the mouth. I do not know what the chances of survival are, but practitioners of catch and release believe that they are able to heal quickly," he said.
However, if a large fish is impaled by a big hook, that is likely to cause more grievous injuries, he added.
Mr Lim said the eagle ray would have been in distress the moment it was hooked, and its distress would have multiplied when it was pulled out of the water.
Prof Huang said: "We ought to avoid interacting or getting too close to threatened species. Rather, admire from a distance where possible to minimise further harm to them, and to prevent injuries to ourselves."
Dr Tun said voluntary catch-and-release fishing – in which fish that are caught are released if not to be eaten – is one of the best practices for recreational fishing.
“This is especially for juveniles, and endangered and threatened species,” she added.
Dr Tun added that NParks and Marine Stewards Singapore jointly developed an information board at Bedok Jetty to showcase the common fish species caught there, and to promote sustainable fishing practices. The white-spotted eagle ray is included on the information board’s catch-and-release list.
“Responsible fishing practices will help us maintain our rich biodiversity and will allow the population to continue to thrive,” she added.
Mr Lim noted that the people in the video clip who pulled in the ray seemed to know what they were doing to keep themselves safe and away from its stinging barbs.
"Seasoned fishermen know to avoid the thrashing tail where the stinging barbs are. Members of the public should not go near a live stingray in distress and thrashing about because they may get stung by it," he said.
Prof Huang said stingrays can have venomous barbed spines on their tails that can inflict very painful stings.
In March, two beachgoers were stung by stingrays at Sentosa beaches.
Prof Huang added that the white-spotted eagle ray is widespread throughout the tropics in the Indo-Pacific region, and has been seen in Singapore along the southern coast and southern islands.
"Stingrays, including the spotted eagle ray, occasionally swim close to our shore and make for very amazing sightings."
Mr Lim said the species can grow up to 3m wide and some of its notable features include its protruding head and numerous white spots. Unlike many stingrays that stick to the bottom of the sea, the eagle ray swims about, flapping its fins.
He added that in South-east Asia, the ray is caught for food and is also a popular display animal in large aquariums.
Late last year, a school of five eagle rays were spotted flitting along Labrador Park.
Prof Huang noted that there have been more reported encounters of stingrays, jellyfish and other marine wildlife over the last two years.
Lethal box jellyfish have been seen gliding through Sentosa waters and East Coast Park, among other places, since last year.
Prof Huang said some reasons for more sightings include slight increases in the abundance of marine species due to natural population processes, and more people visiting coastal areas.
"Overall, there is no convincing evidence yet to suggest any sustained trends in marine biodiversity in Singapore."