Stingrays visit LBI
News Source: Asbury Park Press
July 12, 2012
By CHRISTOPHER D. HUCH JR.
As New Jersey has suffered through a never ending heat wave, Long Beach Island residents and visitors have taken advantage of above average ocean water temperatures to find relief. In addition to the enjoyment of warm water, swimmers and surfers have been able to enjoy incredible water clarity, providing clear sight of the sandy bottom below. This has led to numerous sightings of another animal that delights in warm water temperatures, the stingray. New Jersey sees several different species of stingrays in our coastal waters. However, the two species most common in the surf zone are the Cownose Ray (Rhinoptera bonasus) and the Southern Stingray (Dasyatis americana).
Cownose Rays can be seen swimming right below the water’s surface, often in large schools. A primarily southern species, Cownose Rays make their way up the east coast during the summer as the water warms in northern states. Once in our area, they feed primarily on Coquina Clams (Donax variabilis), the small, colorful clams that have slowly been extending their range northward in recent decades. Cownose Rays are fairly docile creatures and are regularly used in touch tanks at aquariums worldwide. They are also the inspiration of the mascot for the Tampa Bay Rays, formerly known as the Devil Rays. Fisherman regularly hook into Cownose Rays accidentally, leading to a great fight from a stingray that is 3 feet wide and can weigh 50 pounds or more. The larger stingray encountered in our region is the Southern Stingray. Southern Stingrays rest on sandy bottoms, where they feed on shellfish and crabs. These stingrays can reach widths of over 5 feet and weigh over 200 pounds.
Both species have the infamous stinging tail spine that gives stingrays their name. These spines are located near the base of their whip-like tails and can give humans an extremely painful, but not deadly sting. Both the Cownose Ray and the Southern Stingray are not aggressive. However, accidental stings are common when fishermen bring ashore snared rays and Southern Stingrays are often stepped on by bathers in the surf zone. Shuffling your feet when walking in shallow water is often enough to alert Southern Stingrays of a human’s presence, allowing the ray to swim away to quieter waters. Cownose Rays often swim near humans but touching their tail should be avoided. While stingrays are often featured in touch tanks at aquariums, their tail spine is surgically removed. Many aquarium patrons often attempt to touch stingrays in the wild, not knowing that these rays still possess a dangerous stinger. However, as long as swimmers are not aggressive, they can safely watch these beautiful species in their natural habitat