Monday, March 2, 2009

Travelling Rays of Golden Light


Resembling a bed of autumn leaves stirred by the wind, a massive school of Cownose rays (Rhinoptera bonasus) gathers off the coast of Mexico. Often measuring over 2 meters from wingtip to wingtip, thousands of these blunt-faced gliders migrate in groups called “fevers” of up to 10,000 rays in a clockwise direction from the Yucatan Peninsula through the Gulf of Mexico’s coastal bays, “chasing warm water, daylight and prey,” says Jennifer S. Holland in the February 2009 issue of National Geographic Magazine. They migrate twice yearly, north in late spring and south in late autumn according to Marcus Dunk of the UK Daily Mail.

Despite their poisonous stingers, Cownose rays are shy and non-threatening, particularly when in large schools, like those captured here by amateur photographer, Sandra Critelli, who spotted this incredible community while looking for whale sharks.

The Cownose ray is a species of eagle ray that is typically brown-backed with a whitish or yellowish belly. Its distinctive high-domed head gives it an almost comical bovine appearance, like this wonderful fella here. The Cownose ray has a stinger called a spine on its tail, close to the ray’s body. The spine is lined with teeth along its lateral edges and is coated with weak venom that causes symptoms like a bee sting. This dude feeds on clams, oysters, hard clams and other invertebrates. Its two modified fins on its front side produces suction, allowing it to draw food into its mouth, where it crushes its food with its dental plates.

According to marine ecologist Julie Neer, “these guys have only one pup per litter and one litter per year.” Which makes a school of thousands a remarkable thing indeed, adds Holland.
Around 70 species of stingrays live in our oceans. Related to skates and sharks, they’ve never been widely fished for food, mainly because of their rubbery flesh. Generally, the most prized parts of the stingray are the wings, the “cheek” (the area surrounding the eyes) and the liver. In Singapore and Malaysia, they commonly barbecue stingray over charcoal then serve it with spicy sambal sauce. Pickled stingray (“kaest skata”) is typically eaten on December 23 as a traditional favorite in Iceland. Yum!




Nina Munteanu is an ecologist and internationally published author of novels, short stories and essays. She coaches writers and teaches writing at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. For more about Nina’s coaching & workshops visit www.ninamunteanu.me. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for more about her writing.




10 comments:

SF Girl said...

Okay... you're gonna have a good chuckle over this... Do any of you remember the Pokemon series? In season one, Ash and his gang encounter a young girl in an old house with a shapeshifting pokemon. Only he had a slight problem: while he could shift into any pokemon, his face stayed the same. I can still vividly remember him changing into a perfect Pikachu, except with that comical little face. Well... the Cownose ray reminds me of that pokemon! LOL! Do any of you recall that episode and the name of the pokemon?

The Wandering Oak said...

Well the show doesn't ring a bell, but I've seen these pictures recently and I'm still amazed by the sight. What I wouldn't give to have been in the boat to see these things cruise by.

The Wandering Oak said...

Wait, I should clarify. I've heard of Pokemon (I was working retail at the time so I had no choice, lol) but haven't watched it so I don't know the episode.

SF Girl said...

LOL! Well, I think I watched every single episode of season one with my son and because we got most of it on DVD, we watched them SEVERAL times! LOL!... but back to the Cownose ray, I agree with you, Wandering Oak... what an experience to have actually been there. It's all in the timing...We are all presented with something like that at least once in a lifetime, I think...and God grant us the ability to recognize it when it does. Those are truly God-moments...when we "lose" ourselves to the wonder of Nature's gifts.

Jean-Luc Picard said...

I've never seen a Pokemon episode, though I do know of it. You sound like a real addict Nina!

SF Girl said...

LOL! Jean-Luc, I was... truly! I think I enjoyed the shows more than my son did! HAR!... I really liked the edgy (okay, often silly) humor in the shows. Every character had some real foibles and the show capitalized on them in creating entertaining scenarios that ironically resonated with worthwhile themes like honor, faith, respect, forgiveness, etc. How on Earth could a silly anime show do that? Well...This show has generated a lot of philosophical discussion among my friends... (you laugh again! HAR!) But, hear me out... One of the most clever (and, as one friend put it--lazy--though I disagree)devices they used was to have the pokemons not speak English. Their vocalizations included their own name and versions of it...that's it. Easy for the show's writers, you might say? In a discussion with a friend recently on language and linguistics those pesky pokemons came up again as we explored the finer nuances of communication and how this show made use of some elegant tools in what I call obligue communication (far more powerful to a larger audience than the spoken word). Surely, I will post a blog article on this! LOL!

Anne said...

It was a Ditto. The name is perfect for the fact that it copies other Pokemon. The ray does look a bit like the face on a Ditto.

SF Girl said...

Thank you, Anne! Well, my son told me too...in fact he even remembered the name of the girl. Guess I wasn't the only one paying attention. LOL!

Jean-Luc Picard said...

Well worth a real post, that comment!

SF Girl said...

Really? LOL! Okay.... I'll enjoy writing it too... :)