By Cheryl Costello
Cownose rays are back in the Chesapeake Bay. Their movements are beautiful, but they can cause some discomfort if you encounter them in the water. A little girl swimming in the Chesapeake Bay learned that the hard way, as her mother tells Bay Bulletin.
A drone operator shared video with us from the Bay in St. Leonard over Memorial Day weekend—dozens of rays visible from above, just off the beach where swimmers were splashing around.
That’s where Elena Amaya, 7, was playing with her friends before she ended up in the emergency room from a brush with a stingray.
“It felt like I kicked a rock,” Elena tells us. Her mom, Janae Amaya, says she also believed Elena had brushed into a rock with her foot.
“There was like a little scrape on her toe and then above her toe was where the puncture wound was,” Janae explains.
The family showed us a picture of what was removed from Elena’s foot: the barb from a cownose ray, about the same size and shape as the thorn from a rose. It was right on the knuckle of her foot.
Janae called poison control after the foot started to swell from the venomous barb. “They route you to someone in your area when you call poison control. She said that was her third stingray sting call of the day and she had never gotten one before in her entire career.”
Elena was prescribed antibiotics for a week and was all smiles by the time we spoke with her. But her family now knows to be on the lookout for rays.
Perry Hampton, curator of estuarine biology at Calvert Marine Museum, says it’s prime time for cownose rays to be found in the Bay. We’ll be seeing them from now through October, when the water gets too cold for them.
Cownose rays prefer saltier water and it’s not uncommon to find a bunch of them together.
Janae Amaya says when fellow beachgoer Carlos Gautier flew his drone above the beach in St. Leonard, the sea floor was covered with stingrays.
“They do tend to be found often in very large numbers like this, schools if you will,” Hampton says.
He explains that rays are bottom feeders, going after clams and oysters—which is how Elena’s foot tangled with one.
“The ray is just acting defensively. It doesn’t like having a foot pushing down on its head, so it rears back with a barb.”
Hampton says there are things we can do to minimize our chances of being stung, like doing the “stingray shuffle.” You keep your feet on the bottom and you’re less likely to be stung. “As you shuffle your feet, they’re more likely to sense that you’re nearby. And they’ll get up and they’ll move away. They’ll feel the pressure wave from your foot moving,” he says.
Seven-year-old Elena has her own advice for swimming in the Bay this summer: “Stay away from the ‘rocks’,” she says with a giggle.