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  • Writer's pictureGina Scrofano

Victory for the Chesapeake Cownose Ray

Lying inland from the Atlantic Ocean, with its northern waves gracing the state of Maryland, is the beautiful Chesapeake Bay. Deemed the "Heart and Soul of Maryland," the Chesapeake Bay is indeed a scenic treasure, one of which no one could imagine wanting to tarnish. However, where most beauty flows, desire and greed often follow.

(Official tourism website for the state of Maryland)

Darkness Revealed

Among the visitors to the Chesapeake Bay are the migratory species, Rhinoptera bonasus, better known as the Cownose Ray, a name given to the rays due to its adorable facial features which resemble a cow.

The Cownose Ray, which is considered a Near Threatened species by the IUCN, are gentle by nature and glide along the ocean to the Chesapeake Bay using it as a nursery habitat between May and October. By the end of July, the males forge ahead, and the pregnant females stay behind to give birth.

To many, this is a delicate moment in nature, and they enjoy viewing these mild natured and vulnerable Rays as they prepare to give birth. But for some, it simply creates an easy target. Learning of the migratory pattern, a minority special interest group created the Chesapeake Bay Cownose Ray Killing Contest.

The Contest

During the competition, which was recently captured on video and shared on the internet, the pregnant rays are shot with bows, bludgeoned, or stabbed with hooks and brought aboard boats. Often, the Rays are still alive when they are put into coolers where they bleed or suffocate to death. It has been said that the mother's try to give birth before they die in an attempt to save their young. They are denied even that, as the 'hunters' kill the pups as well.

What Is The Purpose?

Bragging rights and cash prizes.

Although those who defend the contest claim the Cownose Rays are eaten, countless residents and tourists confirm this is not the case. Videos from several different sources also provide evidence that the bodies of the lifeless Rays are dishonorably tossed back into the water.

In fact, a campaign named, “Save the Bay, Eat a Ray” was used to market the Cownose Ray as a food in the US, Europe, and Asia a few years ago. Not only was it based on false science, but it failed because people had no interest in having ray for dinner.

Video evidence of the Cownose Ray killing contest is viewable via clicking the image.

WARNING: Video Contains Graphic, Violent, and Unsettling Content

The Facts

Supporters of the blood sport also claim that their killing of the rays are warranted, as the rays are a threat to oyster restoration and shellfish aquaculture efforts due to their diet. They take pride in and enjoy the inhumane contests, boasting about the number of their kills. The bow ‘hunters’ state that they are doing the public a service by removing these rays which decrease our food source.

However, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), modern science disputes that information. According to the NOAA, recent research shows that not only do Cownose Rays prefer to eat thin-valued shellfish, such as razor claims, but when they do eat oysters, they must be small in size. Cownose Rays are plainly unable to produce enough force needed to crush large oysters.

The National Aquarium, who also conducted research, hosted a specific Cownose Ray workshop that took a critical look at the Cownose Ray and the impact that the species is having on the decline of oyster and other bivalve population, which contestant participants and fisheries blame the Cownose Ray for causing.

Full final workshop report may be viewed here

A Short Summary here

Not only did those studies also confirm that oysters are not considered a high percentage of the Cownose Ray's diet (totaling at an estimated 2%-3%), but the decline of bivalve in the Chesapeake Bay occurred up to a decade before the population of Cownose Rays even increased. The study also showed that the decrease of bivalve population is most likely the result of pollution, disease, overfishing and habitat loss. So residents and fisheries themselves, who overfish and contribute to the pollution of the bay, are considered a higher threat to oysters and claims than the Cownose Ray.

Taking A Stand

After videos of these contests had hit the internet, it didn't take long for people to rise and take action to protect the Cownose Ray. News spread fast and people started submitting concerns to the Maryland Office of Tourism urging them to stop these brutal and unnecessary competitions. Animal Welfare organizations stepped forward, petitions were signed by thousands, and websites dedicated to the protection of the rays were created. And that is not all, hearing the plea of the people, House Representatives and Senators introduced bills to protect the rays into Maryland State Legislature.

Senate Bill 268

Two similar bills were introduced into the Maryland State Legislature.

The Senate version, which requires the Department of Natural Resources prepare a fishery management plan for the Cownose Ray species and prohibits Cownose Ray fishing tournaments in Maryland state waters until July 1, 2018, was unanimously passed by the Senate on February 13, 2017.

House Bill 211

The House version of the similar bills is even stronger. This bill also requires the same fishery management plan, however, prohibits Cownose Ray fishing tournaments for an additional year, through July 1, 2019. HB 211 passed the House on March 12th, with a vote of 119-21.

Compromise and Success

On April 5th, the Senate passed HB 211, which means that the House version of the bill has been enrolled and become law, prohibiting Cownose Ray fishing tournaments until July 1, 2019. In the meantime, the fishery management plan including the Cownose Ray species will be completed on or before December 31, 2018 (subject to funding made available to the Dept. of Natural Resources).

Cowards Do What Cowards Do

Not only did these bills pass Maryland State Legislature, but the so-called 'hunters' that participated in the contests have not wasted any time and have begun to run and hide.The 'ARC Chesapeake Bay Sting Ray Tournament' group has already removed or blocked their Facebook Page from the public. A similar group, 'Chesapeake bowfishing', known for sharing off-putting comments and videos, posted on their Facebook back in 2015 that they were deleting their page. Although it has yet to be deleted, no posts since then have been shared, most likely in part, a direct result of the public outcry in defense of the Cownose Ray.


For now, groups such as the above can puff themselves up, spew inaccurate science, demean those with humanity, and then hide from the public all they would like, but we united, stood up against them, and have accomplished major success for the Chesapeake Bay and the graceful Cownose Rays.

There are two ways you can continue to support the protection for the Cownose Rays in Maryland.

Contact the Maryland Office of Tourism

Submit an email via their website and kindly tell them that you support the States decision to temporarily ban the Cownose Ray Killing Contests, but you will not travel to Maryland if the state does not ban them permanently. (Of course, only state this if this is indeed the truth. If you are still interested in traveling to Maryland, you may simply state your disagreement with the contests and urge a permanent ban.) Be sure to take a print screen to retain a copy of your email before submission.

Thank Your Legislators

If you are a resident of Maryland, find your Senator(s) and House Representative(s) Here

House Roll Call Here

Senate Roll Call Here

Check the above Roll Call to see how your legislatures voted.

Call or email your legislator(s) who voted Yea on HB 211 and thank them for their action to address this issue, for supporting animal welfare and for voting to protect the Cownose Ray.

If your legislator(s) voted Nay, you may call or email them and let them know you were very disappointed to learn that they believe the inhumane, unsporting, and ecologically damaging Cownose Ray tournaments are acceptable in your state, and kindly urge them to represent you by supporting future animal welfare and conservation issues in Maryland.

Non-Maryland Residents

Please feel free to also review the above lists to contact and thank any of the senators and/or representatives who supported the bills as well. It will certainly be appreciated and will encourage legislators to continue support of our nation’s valued wildlife.

Update Tues., April 11, 2017: Blog post revised to include House and Senate Roll Calls for HB 211 and to reflect that the bill has passed both chambers. What Can I Do? Section also updated with legislator contact information in light of the bill enrollment.

Straight Twist, Logo, Animal Welfare


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