NJ beachgoers mistake rays for sharks as summer marine life evolves
Recent reports of swimmers at the Jersey Shore thinking the fins of cownose rays are actually those of sharks have one state marine life expert advising residents of the types of creatures in the waters off the Garden State, as August approaches.
Dr. Paul Bologna, professor of biology and director of the Marine Biology and Coastal Sciences program at Montclair State University, said the rays have been spotted along the state's entire Atlantic coast line, from Cape May up to Sandy Hook and beyond.
Echoing earlier comments made to CBS New York, Bologna tells New Jersey 101.5 that although cownose rays do have a barb on their tail that can sting, they are not an aggressive species when it comes to human interaction.
"They don't want anything to do with you. If you go to the aquarium, this is one of the ones that typically is in the children's petting pool or touch tank," Bologna said, however adding that in those cases, the barbs are customarily removed.
Cownose rays usually float near swimming level in ocean waters, which is why they may appear more hazardous than other rays that hug the ocean floor and can be very dangerous if stepped on.
"When those fins come out of the water, it sure looks like you've got sort of shark fins right along there, and I think we're all, post-'Shark Week,' a little bit leery about what we're actually seeing," Bologna said.
Bologna said as the water continues to warm along the Jersey Shore in midsummer, the Gulf Stream is pushing tropical fish into the area.
It's also causing a preponderance of broken-up jellyfish, or their eggs, in certain spots.
"We get those every summer," Bologna said. "They're common along our shores, and as the water heats up, those tropical things are coming up as well."
That means species like marlin or tuna getting closer to the shore than usual — close enough for you to see in the course of a routine beach day.
"Along the jetties, along the rocks, you could literally find coral reef fish swimming along our coast because their larvae have been brought up, and they just sort of metamorphose," Bologna said.