The rays are shot with bows and arrows and then knocked over the head with baseball bats.
Recent reports have found that hunters are using the breeding season of rays to their advantage by shooting entire families for a competitive contest. Every year, numerous groups of cownose rays swim from Florida to the Chesapeake Bay to give birth. Jeff Pierce, legislative counsel for the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF), told The Dodo that the cownose rays add a beauty and mystery to the ocean and “researchers have shown that these rays are actually very intelligent, that they have preferences and ideas of their own”. However, in recent years, the rays’ goal of reaching the Chesapeake Bay just before they give birth has ended in a cruel fate. Hunters climb into boats and shoot the rays in the water using bows and arrows, as part of a contest called the Battle of the Rays.
Due to the competition taking place during the same time as birthing season for the rays, the majority of the rays that are shot are pregnant females that would have been just about to give birth. The rays that don’t die from being shot by a bow and arrow are then clubbed in the head until they are dead. The implications of this practice are having a serious impact on ray populations, especially as rays only carry one baby at a time. The killing competition was originally encouraged by the state of Virginia, who even started a campaign, with the use of tax dollars, to promote the killing of the rays for food; despite them having a horrible taste which some have likened to urine. It was also promoted at one time by a now-debunked theory that there was a need for less rays, as this would then help to increase the dwindling oyster harvests.
Despite the theory being shown as false, the contests still continued due to the fact that a large number of people wanted to kill the rays in the name of sport. Back in 2015, the ray killing contest was filmed after Maryland-based Fish Feel asked Showing Animals Respect and Kindness (SHARK) to get involved. Stuart Chaifetz, an investigator for SHARK, told The Dodo, “The video we captured that year, and in 2016, featured animal cruelty so violent and vicious that it brought international condemnation down upon these contests and spurred more than 146,000 people to sign a petition against them”.
Chaifetz proceeded to talk to WBALTV after witnessing first-hand the violence and cruelty of the contest in 2015. He said, “As they were dying, they gave birth as a last chance to get their babies out, who were killed themselves”. Maryland state senator, Ron Young, decided that something must be done after viewing the footage of the 2015 contest, which showed the rays being beaten to death before being thrown back into the water. He told WBALTV, “They shoot them, they pull them up, they beat them with a baseball bat, they throw them in a barrel and [the rays] suffocate, and then they dump them back in the water. It’s just very inhumane. I don’t think we should treat any live species that way”. He has since drafted Senate Bill 268 in a bid to make contests, including Battle of the Rays, illegal. You can sign a petition to save the rays here.
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