Ballina Beastie

Posted by: Loren Coleman on November 20th, 2006

Recently, a "Weird Fish: Unidentified Marine Creature!" was hooked near Ballina. Ballina is nestled on the Far North Coast of NSW at the mouth of the Richmond River (the longest navigable river on the coast of NSW), Australia.

Atlantic Manta Ray

The source on this reads:

We decided to go fishing and try out our recently acquired boat. My husband, son and I were fishing at Ballina on the Richmond River. It was around the change of tide, I had my rod in the rod holder, when suddenly the line took off, the rod bent over and I nearly fell over trying to get to it before the rod went in!

I grabbed the rod, hooked it up and started trying to reel her in! About half an hour later, after pulling the boat around a bit, I finally got what ever it was up to the surface and realised that it had gotten caught up in our anchor rope, Damn!

My husband grabbed the camera and started taking pictures of what I caught, we haven’t seen anything like it before!

At first we thought it was some kind of Sting Ray, but it had no tail, instead it had what looked like the front of a Manter Ray? and the head was different to a Ray.

Unfortunately we didn’t get it in the boat to have a really good look at it, and had to cut the line because of the Anchor rope.

Check out the pictures and see if you know what it is?

Atlantic Manta Ray

Click on image to see uncropped version

Atlantic Manta Ray

Click on image for full size version

Is it a Pacific (also called an Atlantic) manta or giant manta (Manta birostris, Dondorff, 1798), that has lost its tail – with a misidentified eye? Below is a drawing of a complete example.

Atlantic Manta Ray

Loren Coleman About Loren Coleman
Loren Coleman is one of the world’s leading cryptozoologists, some say “the” leading living cryptozoologist. Certainly, he is acknowledged as the current living American researcher and writer who has most popularized cryptozoology in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Starting his fieldwork and investigations in 1960, after traveling and trekking extensively in pursuit of cryptozoological mysteries, Coleman began writing to share his experiences in 1969. An honorary member of Ivan T. Sanderson’s Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained in the 1970s, Coleman has been bestowed with similar honorary memberships of the North Idaho College Cryptozoology Club in 1983, and in subsequent years, that of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club, CryptoSafari International, and other international organizations. He was also a Life Member and Benefactor of the International Society of Cryptozoology (now-defunct). Loren Coleman’s daily blog, as a member of the Cryptomundo Team, served as an ongoing avenue of communication for the ever-growing body of cryptozoo news from 2005 through 2013. He returned as an infrequent contributor beginning Halloween week of 2015. Coleman is the founder in 2003, and current director of the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine.

27 Responses to “Ballina Beastie”

  1. planettom responds:

    Possibly a ray of some sort, maybe even a skate. Hard to tell which end is the posterior end, even comparing with other photos. I see the resemblance to a manta if you look at the right side of the picture as the anterior portion of the creature, however, I’m gonna have to look at this some more. It does appear that a tail of some sort is missing or out of view…Interesting!

  2. mystery_man responds:

    I get the distinct impression that this is a manta but in my opinion not a living one. I think a curious omission in the story is whether it was alive or not. although I gather many will assume it was, could this not have been a manta carcass that was pulled up? It looks to be slightly deteriorated up where a manta’s head would be and a dead carcass could have had it’s tail eaten off by other organisms. I don’t know how the conclusion was reached that the “eye” in the picture was in fact it’s eye, but I feel there is a possibility it may have been misidentified. I think it is important to go through known existing animals before we all start calling it a cryptid just yet. What other sealife is native to that area that this could be?

  3. Riptor responds:

    The body of this creature certainly resembles that of a mnta ray or some other tipe of ray. I can’t really see any other creature that has a flat bosy like that, except maybe a sea slug, but they tend to live on the bottom of the ocean.
    It’s hard to tell what exactly it is, but my best guess would be a ray.

  4. Mnynames responds:

    Surely they took more than one picture? That could clear this up pretty quickly.

    On the face of it, this looks like a perfectly ordinary ray (I work with Cownose Rays every day, so I’m pretty familiar with them) that is either missing its tail or has it curled out of view. I see at least 3 dots that could be an eye, if one were so inclined as to imagine them to be, and don’t believe any of them actually are. What looks like the head to the witnesses is either the rear tip of the pectoral fin or perhaps an upraised anal fin. No visible claspers, so it is likely a female, although if the tail is missing, the claspers could always be too.

  5. Shihan responds:

    It’s just a stingray that lost its tail. (I caught one myself recently in S. Fla) Manta rays are plankton eaters and therefore wouldn’t bite on a baited line.

  6. Mnynames responds:

    Mystery Man has a good point. This could explain the somewhat ragged appearance of the cephalic fins and the lack of a tail, as well as all the apparent “eye spots”, which could be bite marks or discoloured flesh.

  7. enokaj responds:

    It appears as though it is the anterior portion of a stingray. The posterior portion of the stingray is missing, maybe due to a shark or another marine predator.

  8. Mnynames responds:

    The position of the sinker makes me think that if this thing was alive, it got snagged in the line, rather than tried to swallow the bait. Shihan is quite right in pointing out that a true Manta would have little interest in such things.

  9. t3hbigv responds:

    Look like an old decayed ray for sure.

  10. jayman responds:

    Another possibility is a batfish, genus Halieutaea.

  11. Riptor responds:

    Indeed Jayman, that is a possibility I had not considered yet. It would explain why it supposedly bit on the baited line.

  12. Swamp_Screamer responds:

    My opinion is an eagle ray. Unusual colorations of eagle rays that are lighter skinned is assumed to be one that has moulted its skin. There are several reasons that the tail could be gone. Many fisherman cut them off to avoid getting stung. Sometimes they just wear off as they grow and will fall off, I believe as a new one forms. And also since the death of crocodile hunter, Steve Irwin, in Australia, unfortunately many tails have been being cut off of rays as an angry outburst from fans. It does also have a shovel type nose and fins resembling a manta. Could also be some kind of stingaree.

  13. Swamp_Screamer responds:

    If the anchor rope is 1/2 inch thick, this ‘ray?’ would be approximately 4 feet wide. At 1/4 inch, its width would be approximately 2 feet wide. The anchor rope doesn’t appear any wider than this.

  14. youcantryreachingme responds:

    For a number of reasons (full discussion at my website, with a closeup showing some highlighted features), I think this is probably the anterior half of a ray, facing left – but there are still some unanswered questions…

    The reporter also mentions photos (plural)… It would be interesting to see the other photographs, if they are available.

    It is also interesting that the datestamp is from 2004. How did this story come to light, Loren?

  15. Swamp_Screamer responds:

    I have caught many many rays on baited lines!

  16. Cryptonut responds:

    The coloration doesn’t look like a manta to me (at least the ones I’ve seen on the west coast), but the shape does if the right side is the front of the creature. The top right of the creature looks like it is missing something, like it was dead and decaying. I have been fishing in San Diego and witnessed a double hook up on Mantas when guys were fishing with bait.

    Why do all these stories end with some bogus line like “we had to cut the line”? If I thought I had something unique, I would have brought up the anchor to get at the creature. Like another poster said as well, you’d think that multiple pics would have been taken if the observer thought it was unique. Looks like a dead/decaying ray that was dragged up from the bottom and caught in the anchor line on the way up. If it was live, I would think that that close to the surface and that close to the boat, if it were live, you would see some water break on the surface/more action by whatever it is.

  17. youcantryreachingme responds:

    Except it’s apparently after a 30 minute struggle, so perhaps the creature is exhausted?

    Then why not drag it onto the boat? Well maybe if it’s 4 foot, it’s too heavy? But you could still drag it to shore.

    However, I think it’s probably closer to 2 foot wide.

    Maybe the writer knows exactly what it is and is watching how we examine the evidence and backstory? 🙂

  18. Trapster responds:

    Drawing a blank here, outside my realm of knowledge. I’d like to see more pics though.

  19. Manxman responds:

    I concur with Swamp_Screamer, I believe the pictures are of a common Ray found along the New South Wales Coast. I base this on having seen numerous rays that looked like this whilst Fishing, as well a Speer Fishing both in shore and off shore at Forster NSW Australia.

    I admit though the colour seems off for a live one. It appears to be partly eaten (right side of picture) which would account for the colour if its dead.

  20. Swamp_Screamer responds:

    I also believe it to be closer to two feet. In response to questions that the ‘ray’ may have been too heavy to lift onto the boat. I don’t personally buy that as fish much larger than this are not cut and released. Especially since the stinger is gone, and if a gaff or net wouldn’t work, why couldn’t three people lift it onto the boat. I have lifted a live adult injured pelican flocking its wide wingspan uncontrollably onto my boat by myself to get it rehabilitated. Sure, three people could handle this. Not to tell fish tales. I also lifted quite a few huge live tarpon to get the trophy picture and then release. Therefore, on the other hand, they may not want to kill it if it was a live species.

  21. youcantryreachingme responds:

    You can click on my name to see a close up of the right hand side of the animal, with some notes on why I think it’s half a ray… (and 2 feet wide, etc)

  22. shumway10973 responds:

    just a thought, aren’t there fish that live on the bottom of the ocean that lie flat on one side? I’m not sure what exactly they are called or what they look like completely, except take a large fish and lie it on its side and then give it fins, 1 on top and 1 on bottom, but I’m not sure what the tail fin looks like. This one does seem like a manta, except what most are seeing as the front where the eyes should be, isn’t and even look like feet or something like that. Intersting color for being in the ocean and not seen before.

  23. youcantryreachingme responds:

    Soles lie on their sides, but their dorsal (top) and anal (bottom) fins run almost the length of their body – like a fringe, quite different to this critter.

  24. youcantryreachingme responds:

    The ocean sunfish is vaguely similar.

    There is a photo of one, with similar perspective.

    A second, very large photo here.

    But perhaps the closest comparison is here.

  25. Swamp_Screamer responds:

    On closer examination, I am convinced that the torn up portion is where the eagle ray’s mouth is. There is a small clip where the caudal (tail) would start if you examine the photograph closely. My theory is that this “eagle” ray or (bat ray) bit off more than he could chew. What I mean is they have some of the strongest teeth of any ray, they are actually embedded into a plate. They are so strong they can crush whole shells in their mouth. I am thinking that the hook got stuck in the teeth plate. These rays also put up such a fight that sportsfishermen will actually specifically fish for them. That is why it took the fishermen 30 minutes to get it up. So it either got its mouth ripped out in the fight as the hook was so embedded in the teeth plate or the line got caught up on something while reeling it in. The line stayed attached as the whole plate where the teeth are attached did not get ripped out as this was the strongest area, thus the hole where the hook was embedded. The shape is almost exact if tail is opposite end.

  26. mystery_man responds:

    Very intrigueing theory, Swamp_Screamer. I was thinking that the torn up part was because it might be dead, but I suppose a good fight on the line could cause some damage. I unfortunately do not know much about this type of ray, but the theory seems plausible if what you say about its mouth mechanisms are true. Another problem with the “dead” theory is the 30 minutes to pull it up. Of course, the story doesn’t actually say “struggle”, and pulling dead weight up through the water for a time might feel like thirty minutes, but if it were dead it might be easier to pull up than it appears to have been. I’m starting to lean towards a live ray of some sort, maybe this eagle ray that a lot of posters have mentioned. It is probably not a manta unless it was snagged, as mantas eat plankton.

  27. Darth Caesar responds:

    Hmmmm, maybe it looks like this.

    You do get different types, so the colouration can be explained by that.

    A sunfish, if it was attacked by shark coming up then it would make perfect sense why its all ragged at the right hand side.

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