STORIES THE VIEW UPSTREAM By: Keith 'Catfish' Sutton, WorldFishingNetwork.com Amazing Facts About Stingrays Did you know stingrays could weigh up to 1,320 pounds? Read on to find out more about these unusual fish Few fish are more unusual or interesting than these weird bottom dwellers found around the world. (Tomas Willems photo via Wikipedia) If you’ve fished in coastal waters of the Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf of Mexico, chances are good you’ve had at least one encounter with a stingray. These unusual fish with broad flattened bodies, long barbed tails and vacuum-cleaner mouths – relatives of sharks – hardly resemble fish at all. Or perhaps they just look like fish that have been in some sort of accident. “Imagine a shark body. Then imagine a steamroller going over the top of it. That’s how you make a ray,” quipped George Burgess, an ichthyologist at the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville. If you actually flattened out a shark – and no one recommends doing that – the shark’s pectoral, or side, fins would become the wings of the ray. There are more than 600 species of rays, but of these, only 70 species are in the stingray family Dasyatidae. Most stingrays are marine species that live in temperate or tropical oceans, but some live in brackish or fresh waters. No matter where they live, stingrays elicit great interest from those who see or catch them – and with good reason. They are among the most fascinating creatures on earth. Size Most stingrays measure only a foot or two across the disk. But some species reach enormous sizes. For example, the southern stingray, a common species of the western Atlantic from New Jersey to Brazil, sometimes reaches 6 ½ feet. The IGFA all-tackle world record caught in Galveston Bay, Texas weighed 246 pounds. Roughtail stingrays, denizens of the Atlantic and Mediterranean, grow even larger – up to 7 feet across and 450 pounds. The world record from Islamorada, Florida weighed 405 pounds. Short-tailed stingrays live off the coasts of Africa and Australia. They can reach 770 pounds and grow to 14 feet. The biggest known stingray – the giant stingray, or whip ray, of southeast Asia – is one of the world’s largest freshwater fish, measuring up to 16 ½ feet and 1,320 pounds! Weird and Beautiful Fish Rays include some strange and pretty species. Sixgill stingrays, for example, have mouths that can protrude like long stovepipes to suck food off the bottom. They could give you a kiss from a surprisingly long distance away, but you’d probably want to avoid that because they have up to 100 rows of small, blunt teeth. The discus ray, a freshwater species from South America that grows to more than 100 pounds, has a very short spike-covered tail that resembles that of the extinct ankylosaurus. It sometimes is called manzana ray because this shortened appendage gives it a body profile like an apple with a stem. The blue-spotted stingray of rocky, coral reefs has skin punctuated with vivid indigo circles that make it incredibly beautiful. The freshwater Xingu river ray of Brazil sometimes is called polka-dot ray because white spots cover its dark-brown body. Live Young Stingrays are ovoviviparous, meaning the young are hatched from eggs held within the body. When the two to six babies are born, they look like miniature versions of their parents. They are naturally good swimmers from birth. This helps them find food on their own right away, although mothers may protect the young until they reach age three or so. Some say young stingrays look like swimming raviolis, a funny yet fitting description. Those Wicked Barbs Stingrays are aptly named. They have a serrated, venomous barb at the base of the tail they can use to “sting” anything that threatens them. Stingrays generally aren’t aggressive, usually choosing to swim away when threatened. However, when attacked by predators or stepped on, the ray’s whipping tail can deeply embed the stinger. Injuries cause great pain and can be deadly serious. People stung by stingrays usually step on the well-camouflaged bottom dwellers accidentally. As a result, most wounds are on the legs or feet. Occasionally, however, the barb punctures a person’s chest or abdomen, which can lead to death. In 1996, Australian wildlife expert Steve Irwin, famous for his Crocodile Hunter TV series, was killed when a stingray pierced his chest during the filming of a documentary. To avoid stings, persons wading or swimming are advised to do the “Stingray Shuffle.” Shuffling one’s feet across the bottom usually spooks stingrays away. Nevertheless, about 1,500 stingray-induced injuries occur in the United States each year. If you are stung, leave the barb in and seek medical treatment immediately. Hammered Few creatures dare to prey on stingrays, although seals, sea lions and large predatory fish occasionally eat them. There is one fish, however – the great hammerhead – that specializes in eating stingrays. Electroreceptors in the shark’s unusually shaped head help it find stingrays hidden in the bottom. Then the hammerhead pins the ray to the bottom and eats it. Fortunately for the hammerhead, it doesn’t seem bothered at all by the stingrays’ barbs. One large individual caught off Florida had 96 stingray barbs embedded in its mouth, throat and tongue! The Skinny on Stingray Skin Because stingray skin is both beautiful and durable, it has been used for hundreds of years by different cultures to make useful items. Stingray leather was discovered on armor and decorative items in the tombs of Egyptian pharaohs. Japanese samurais valued the skin for making sword handles. In France during the 1700s, King Louis XV possessed many items made from this exotic and beautiful leather, including snuff boxes, wig cases and knife sheaths. From 1899 to 1933, the famous English artisan John Paul Cooper had a studio in London that produced nearly 1,000 items veneered with stingray leather, including frames, vases, decorative boxes and even candlesticks. Today, stingray leather is just as useful and desirable as it has been throughout history. An internet search will turn up many items you can buy, including shoes, wallets, belts, passport holders, watch straps and much more. Aid to Science According to LiveScience, researchers hoping to design more maneuverable and fuel-efficient submarines are taking cues from the unique and elegant way stingrays swim. Scientists at Harvard University and the University at Buffalo are studying how stingrays move, including the seemingly effortless way the fishes’ round and flattened bodies ripple through water. The new research could inspire the development of next-generation unmanned submarines for ocean exploration, clean-up efforts or rescue missions. Food for the Adventurous The next time you crank up a stingray instead of your intended catch, don’t cuss it, eat it. Yes, you can cook and eat stingrays. As unappetizing as they look, and as weird as their anatomy seems, stingrays aren’t much harder to clean than your usual table varieties. And, yes, they make delicious dinners. Many anglers compare their taste to scallops.