Virginia College studies the diet of Cownose Rays

Local College Dives into Diet of Cownose Stingrays


By Lauren Compton,
24. October 2011

Lynchburg, VA – A local college is trying to solve a Chesapeake Bay controversy by finding what cownose stingrays eat.

The answer could be the key to saving the animals from the bay workers trying to get rid of them.

Students at Sweet Briar College are doing research to find stingray dietary habits.

Maryanne Grey, one of those researchers, always thought she would be cuddling puppies as a pre-veterinary student, not cataloging the contents of stingray stomachs.

“I’m hoping to find something that is going to help these guys,” said Maryanne Grey, a senior at SBC.

Biology professor John Morrissey says these little guys are under constant attack in the Chesapeake Bay.

“The crabbers want to kill the rays because they think they are eating crabs. The scallops or oyster people think they are eating scallops so they want to kill the rays for those reasons,” said Morrissey.

Stingrays migrate to the bay each May to give birth to their young.

“I have seen them shot with bows and arrows, I’ve seen them have cinder blocks thrown on their heads. They are viewed as Chesapeake vermin,” said Morrissey.

But finding out what they are actually eating could be a way to stop this.

“I found small crabs in the stomach, different size shells, I’ve found different size worms,” said Grey.

Grey says she can dissect about three sting ray stomachs without losing her lunch.

“This one doesn’t smell bad, but I’ve gotten physically sick from these,” said Grey.

At times it can take hours to determine what was in their stomachs… but so far, Grey says she hasn’t found any of the commercial valuable things.

“Even if the rays are eating shellfish, if we remove them in hopes the oysters will rebound, there could be completely unpredictable maybe even more negative impacts,” said Morrissey.

But it could be hard to cut down on the stingray killing. Morrissey says there is even a grassroots movement fueling this stingray controversy. It’s called “Eat a Ray, Save the Bay”


Videographer (Video below): Daniel Heffner.


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