SEA GIRT, N.J. (AP) — Migrating kite-shaped cownose rays are here in full force. The wing-tipped sea creatures with a big snout have been spotted by beachgoers up and down the Shore.

Manasquan resident Jamie Ragan found himself in the midst of "hundreds" of rays while surfing with his kids July 19 at Seaside Place in Sea Girt.

"(There were) so many they were bumping us. They looked like they were feeding on crabs, you could see areas easily where they were stirring up the sand," said Ragan, 44.

Marine experts say the rays are relatively harmless to people, though their wings have been mistaken for shark fins and have forced an occasional beach closing.

"They're pretty skittish. You'll see a huge school in the water 10 feet down and pull up to them in a boat and they'll dive down deep," said Jeff Normant, a fisheries biologist with New Jersey Fish and Wildlife.

Normant said cownose rays do have a whip-like tail with a barb and stinger as a defense mechanism.

He said the rays are in abundance on the East Coast and migrate from southern waters to New Jersey in late spring and summer when the water temperatures warm up. He said a school of rays can stretch as far as Point Pleasant to Seaside.

Normant said they can be a nuisance to hardshell aquaculture farmers in Barnegat Bay because they rip up shell beds.

Charter captain Alex Majewski saw "squadrons" of a dozen or more cownose rays cruising in Barnegat Inlet for hours on a recent fishing excursion.

His fishing party hooked two of them by accident as they were trying for a different game species called bluefish.

"Both fish were landed and released thanks to some precision boat handling on my part," said Majewski, 56.

The list of stingrays and skates that are common to the Jersey Shore is long and includes clearnose and barndoor skates, roughtail stingrays, bluntnose stingrays, bullnose rays and spiny butterfly rays, the latter can easily reach 150 pounds in weight.

Skates are similar to rays except they have thorns on their tail instead of a stinging barb. Skates also are responsible for "mermaid purses," rectangular-shaped egg cases that wash up on the beach after the eggs hatch. Rays give live births.

Marine experts recommend bathers do the "stingray shuffle," when walking the sandy bottom. Shuffling up the sand alerts the rays to move.

"In the shallow surf, they're coming right up to the beach. At high tide you see them on the sandbars," said Steve Palmer, who owns Jingle's Bait and Tackle Shop in Beach Haven with his wife Carol. "Sometimes the kids and teenagers will run to their house to get their fishing rods when they see the rays."




Information from: Asbury Park (N.J.) Press,