Devil rays make a leaping appearance in Suncoast waters

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SARASOTA, Fla. - A marine animal not often seen near Suncoast beaches is making a rare appearance.

Many people likely think of baseball when devil rays are mentioned. But in recent months actual devil rays have been showing up off the coast of Sarasota.

A YouTube video was recently shot near Longboat Key by Breakwater Bill showing numerous rays leaping through the air. But this is just one many sighting of the rare species.

Charter boat captain Brian Marcey has also seen them in recent months. "We were in about 30 feet of water right off the beach off Longboat Key up here, and there was about nine or ten and there were all just swimming among each other, circling around underwater, having a good time."

Devil rays have also been sighted in Sarasota Bay. The ones found around Florida generally only grow to a few feet wide. They look similar to a manta ray, except they have a feature that makes them very easy to recognize. "They have two distinct claspers that come out in the front and that kinda defines them, and they are a little darker; white on the bottom and dark on top," says Marcey.

But despite the recent sightings, officials say devil rays are not common to the area. “This is a species that's a rare visitor to our area. We don't see it very often, we may see it for a day to a week, and then not see it for years. So it’s interesting to know we are seeing more of these rays around here," says Hayley Rutger at Mote Marine Laboratory.

The animals are known to live further out in the Gulf of Mexico and along the Atlantic coast. Mote Marine officials say they are unsure what has brought the devil rays to the area but they are eager to find out. "We are keeping an eye out for them and when the opportunity arises we might catch and release them and put a tag on them to see if we see those rays again later," says Rutger.

Mote Marine officials say this time of year the water is very clear. So if you want to catch a glimpse of a devil ray, this is the best time to do so.