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Researcher Uses Satellites to Track Cownose Ray

Cownose rays are native to the Chesapeake Bay. They arrive late spring when the waters start warming and leave again in the early fall as waters cool. Where they go during the rest of the year? No one knows! That's way Virginia Sea Grant Specialist Bob Fisher is satellite tagging some rays.

Satellite tag and release of cownose rays

Bob Fisher (left) recruits his son Carver (right) to help release cownose rays for satellite tagging experiment. ©Janet Krenn/VASG

By Janet Krenn

See more pictures from the cownose ray release on our Flickr page.

Cownose rays are native to the Chesapeake Bay. They arrive late spring when the waters start warming and leave again in the early fall as waters cool. Where they go during the rest of the year? No one knows!

That’s why Virginia Sea Grant Fisheries and Seafood Techology Specialist Bob Fisher is satellite tagging some rays. The satellite tags will gather data about water quality and depth for 90 days. On December 12, 2011, the tags will disconnect from the ray and float to the water’s surface. There, they’ll send the data gathered as well as information on their current position to a satellite which will pass the data back to Fisher at VIrginia Institute of Marine Science.

Although six rays were tagged, it’s uncertain how much data Fisher will get back. Last year, during a similar study, only one of the tags transmitted data after the 90 day period. Fisher suspects that the other tags probably got eaten, along with the rays, by predatory sharks.

“Hopefully a few of these animals will survive until December, and then we’ll finally have more clues about this basic information,” says Fisher.

This kind of basic information can help fisheries managers better understand and manage the species, which has been under scrutiny lately as a predator of Bay shellfish.