Sea Creature Feature of The Week: Cownose Ray

This species gets its name from the form of its nose. When seen from above, the cownose ray’s nose resembles that of a cow. You can find this active swimmer along the shorelines of the Western Atlantic from New England all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. Their migration habits are not entirely understood, and they can travel long distances. According to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the Gulf of Mexico population migrates in schools of as many as 10,000 rays, clockwise from western Florida to the Yucatan in Mexico.

Their diet comprises clams, snails, lobsters, oysters, and crabs. When they locate their meal, they flap their pectoral fins while sucking sediment through their mouths and out their gills, eventually attracting the prey in. Cownose rays have poisonous stingers as well, although they offer little risk to people because they only strike when threatened. Predators of the cownose ray include Cobia and a range of sharks such as sandbar and bull.

The IUCN Red List assessed the Cownose Ray or Rhinoptera bonasus in 2019 and listed the species as vulnerable. The population status of Cownose Rays is decreasing. Threats include detrimental effects from the commercial shellfish business in the United States. The “Save the Bay, Eat a Ray” campaign was intended to help save oyster populations in the Chesapeake, reminding people that cownose rays are a major cause of shellfish population decreases. Aside from area-based regional management plans, there are no active conservation activities, though the state of Maryland has banned American Cownose Ray killing contests.