The newly released book Rays of the World is the first illustrated guide to rays since the first member of the group was described by Linnaeus, the founder of modern taxonomy, in 1758.
Based on years of research by 15 authors, many of the book’s 633 species of rays were previously unknown to science and 25 new species included were not named and described until this year.
Thanks to Australia's unique biodiversity, many of the newly described species are Australian but have been hiding in plain sight.
"The Australian Whipray is a familiar sight in the Noosa River, often seen swimming in water only a few centimetres deep," lead editor and CSIRO researcher Dr Peter Last said.
"Adults have a one metre disc and a very long whip-like tai and it was described and named only three months ago.
"In August we described and named the Mumburarr Whipray, which is found in Northern Australia and Papua New Guinea.
"One of largest stingrays, it measures more than 1.6 metres across its disc, is more than four metres long and weighs more than 100 kilograms.
"Although these species probably provided food for Indigenous people, the fact that they were not known to science means that they have not been on anyone's radar for research and conservation.
"Some of the species celebrated in our book may be rendered extinct in the near future without intervention, including many stingray species from Southeast Asia.
"Tasmania's largest endemic fish, the Maugean Skate, is in danger of joining the Thylacine."
CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere Acting Science Director Dr David Smith said the book was a significant international achievement.
"Rays of the World has brought together researchers from countries across the globe including Australia, France, Germany, Brazil, Malaysia and the United States," Dr Smith said.
"The book will go a long way to enhancing the world's knowledge on these iconic marine animals."
The group includes well-known animals such as the stingrays, skates, electric rays and sawfishes.
They range in size from seven metre wide mantas and seven metre long sawfish to the tiny electric sleeper ray, which reaches maturity at only eight to 10 centimetres long.
Most live only in the sea, but the freshwater stingrays of South America spend their lives far upstream in rivers including the Amazon.
Rays are not typically aggressive to humans, but the stings of stingrays and sharp saws of sawfishes can cause injuries if these animals are mishandled or startled.
The research underpinning Rays of the World proved challenging, with the authors searching natural history collections and museums around the world, including CSIRO’s Australian National Fish Collection in Hobart, as well as searching for rays in the wild and at remote fish markets.
"Some species are known only from specimens squashed into preserving jars," Dr Last said.
"Others we thought we knew fairly well, but when we looked closer one species turned out to be as many as six or seven different species.
"DNA analyses have provided amazing new insights, not just new species but whole new genera and families have been recognised, including the impressive Australian fiddler rays."
The book was funded by the US National Science Foundation, CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere and CSIRO's Australian National Fish Collection.
It is beautifully illustrated by paintings of each species, reflecting the difficulty of photographing preserved specimens or rare rays in the wild.
Rays of the World was edited by Peter Last, William White, Marcelo de Carvalho, Bernard Séret, Matthias Stehmann and Gavin Naylor, with illustrations of all 633 species painted by wildlife artist Lindsay Marshall.
It was published by CSIRO Publishing and is available online: Rays of the World.
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