Late in April we watched a surf fisherman at Myrtle Beach fight with something heavy on his line. It took about an hour to bring the catch to the surf's edge. When the “fish” came into sight, we saw it was a Southern Stingray, not a fish at all. The fisherman retrieved his hook and line; the hook had caught onto a “wing” of the creature. Two other hooks were imbedded in his wing from previous encounters.
The Southern Stingray is classified as belonging to the order Myliobatiformes, family Dasyatidae, genus Dasyatis, species americana. It likes the tropical and subtropical waters of the Southern Atlantic Ocean.
The creature swims by slowly flapping its fin-wings as it glides through the water. Because rays and skates lack an air bladder, they must keep moving or they sink to the bottom. (Bony fish have an air bladder, so they can rest “suspended” in the water.)
Another characteristic which sets rays, skates, and sharks apart from 90% of the bony fish population is the fact that rays, skates, and sharks have skeletons composed only of cartilage.
A bottom dweller, rays prefer shallow seas or estuaries, where they often rest in the silt and sand. — Advice to humans: To keep from being stung by the venomous, whip-like tail spine of a stingray, shuffle along when you wade, rather than walking normally. Hopefully the shuffling will scare off a resting ray before you step directly on the creature.
Though generally peace-loving, your perceived “attack” may cause him to swing his tail around and upward, in self-defense, towards you. On the tail, fairly close to the base, is a serrated, razor-sharp spine. (Some rays possess two or three of these spines or spikes.) This venomous spine, which is as long as six inches, can inflict a serious wound, causing tissue damage, swelling, and extreme pain. The wound can possibly induce vomiting, diarrhea, sweating, a drop in blood pressure, and very rarely, death.
If you do get stung by a ray, soak the injured area in hot water, which inactivates protein in the poisonous venum. If the wound is more than superficial, see a doctor immediately — a part of the poisonous spine may be imbedded in your flesh.
Incidentally, the stingray's cousins, the skates, do not possess a dangerous poison in their tails.
Rays bear live young, like mammals, though the young are nourished inside the creature's body by a yolk sac, rather than through the mother's bloodstream. The babies hatch inside the mother's body, then are born. (The eggs of skates develop in egg cases outside the creature's body, in the sea.)
Rays muck along the sea bottom in search of crabs, shrimp, small fish, squid, worms, etc., to eat with their powerful jaws and teeth. Sometimes they lurk in the sand and silt, well-camouflaged, with just their eyes and breathing spiracles visible in the sand, waiting for prey. Interestingly, their mouth and gill slits are on the bottomside of the creature. It locates its food by using highly-developed electro-receptors and keen senses of smell and touch.
The ray itself is a favorite food of Hammerhead Sharks.
The Southern Stingray may be as wide as 80 inches across and weigh a little over 200lbs. It is gray, brown, or greenish on top, and white underneath.
Some people catch rays for the wings (the flattened pectoral fins), which are said to taste like scallops. The flavor of the meat is improved by bleeding the ray as soon as you catch it; then soak the meat in lemon juice or vinegar before cooking. (The soaking removes urea, which gives the flesh a bitter taste.)