Over the past few years, an increasing amount of cownose rays, Rhinoptera bonasus, have appeared at the Jersey Shore. I saw two in early August swimming through the waves. According to the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife, these rays live along the Atlantic coast, from Southern New England to Florida, and migrate to Trinidad, Venezuela and Brazil. Their migration pattern is not yet fully understood, but it is believed that these rays migrated up this far due to the change on water temperature.
PHOTO COURTESY OF OCEANA
Cownose rays get their name from the shape of their snout. They have long, pointed wings with a square nose. They are either a brown or olive color with no distinguishing markings. Cownose rays grow up to 50 inches and weigh up to 50 pounds. The New Jersey Environmental Protection Agency states that these rays have been seen jumping out of the water, creating a loud noise. Cownose rays are a foraging predator who mostly eat invertebrates such as crabs, clams and snails. According to Oceana, they filter sediment through their mouths and out their gills.
Their long tails have a poisonous barb near the base. This barb is a defense mechanism used against predators such as sharks. While cownose rays may seem intimidating since they have a poisonous barb, they are very gentle creatures.