A 40kg golden ray that was walled in by the Gonubie tidal pool was released by East London Aquarium staffers, who donned wetsuits to gently net the creature before liberating it into the Indian Ocean yesterday morning.
Overseen by Buffalo City chief of marine services Siani Tinley, the aquarium’s new aquarist William Mlambo and two burly staff members cornered the large adult ray, which had a metre-and-a-half wingspan, and coaxed it into a large fishing net.
“We then lifted it slowly so we could bear its weight and placed a towel over the base of its tail so that he could not injure us because the tail has a barb covered with a toxic membrane and can cause slight injury and a bit of a toxic reaction,” explained Tinley.
She said she had received a call from a member of the public on Thursday informing the aquarium that the ray was stuck in the pool and that some members of the public were harassing it.
“There is no way that waves could have washed him into the pool, so we think fishermen caught him and released him here.”
She said that even in the event of big swells and rough seas, the ray would have remained on the floor of the pool and “hid in the sand”.
Despite slight injuries to its eye and body, most likely sustained on rocks when it was caught, the ray was energetic and in good health, according to Tinley.
She said it would probably have lived off plankton and bait leftovers while detained in the pool.
The ray became the centre of a Facebook conversation when Gonubie resident Dean Felton reported its presence in the pool, but cautioned that people had been throwing rocks at it.
This elicited a string of reactions, with some members of the Nubians Unlimited page expressing concern for its safety.
It took six people – four aquarium staff and two members of the public – to haul the creature up the stairs of the pool and over about 15m of rocks before it was lowered into the shore break. After two mighty flaps with its massive fins, the ray swam to freedom, much to the delight of onlookers who gathered on the boardwalk to observe the rescue operation.
Mlambo escorted the ray 15m into the surf. “I just walked with it to ensure it was swimming, and he was 100% okay,” he said. — firstname.lastname@example.org