Watch CBS News

Cownose Rays Alarm Swimmers On Jersey Shore

CAPE MAY, N.J. (CBSNewYork) - Herds of cownose rays are making their annual migration to the Jersey Shore, and their return is triggering some misplaced alarm among beachgoers.

CBS2's Christina Fan explains why.

From Sandy Hook to Cape May, sightings of these unusual creatures lurking so close to shore are scaring swimmers out of the water.

"That's exactly what they do is freak out, and there's no need to freak out," said Dean Yankowski of the Dock Outfitters.

"If you're not on top of them, it can look like a fin coming out of the water," said Danny Intile.

What people are seeing are herds of cownose rays, named for their distinctive cow-like snouts. But beachgoers say it's their pointed fins that really resemble something else -- giving them Jaws-like jitters.

"When their fins sort of come out of the water, people often mistake them as short of a shark fin coming through there," said marine biologist Dr. Paul Bologna.

Bologna says there's no need to be afraid. While the rays have a barb on their tail for defense, they are not aggressive and are relatively harmless to humans.

Experts say the real sting they deliver are to shellfish farmers.

"Cownose rays are known to get into areas where aqua culture is being active, especially for hard clams, and they might tear up the bottom in searching for the clams and may impact natural clam populations," Bologna said.

The rays reappear every summer along the Jersey Shore in search of food. Intile, who works as a boat rental operator in Seaside Heights, says they're a beautiful sight to behold.

"Last year, there was a giant herd of 40 to 50 all moving together. Which is really an awesome sight, if you haven't seen them before," Intile said.

Still if you encounter them, the best advice is to admire from afar.

Christina Fan contributed to this report. 

Editor's note: This story originally appeared on July 26, 2021.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.