giant eagle ray

In Alabama, rare 400-pound spotted eagle ray jumps into boat, gives birth

When people go deep sea fishing, they expect to spot some interesting marine creatures. What they do not expect is a rarely spotted eagle ray jumping into their boat and giving birth. But that’s what happened when April Jones, her husband, son, and father-in-law set out to catch a winner for the 2022 Alabama Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo.

An Eagle Ray Jumps into a Fishing Boat

The family fished off the waters near Dauphin Island, Alabama. Then an eagle ray weighing about 400 pounds jumped into their boats, slapping Jones in mid-air. As Jones explained, “There was a hard hit and a water splash. I felt something hit me and then I see this big blob flopping around in the back of the boat.”

However, the ray wasn’t able to jump back into the ocean. And the family couldn’t lift her out. In fact, the ray was so heavy, that the boat was slowly sinking. “We thought she’d be able to get herself out of the boat, but due to her weight, she couldn’t get herself out. We tried to get her out, but she weighed too much… She was so heavy that she was also weighing the boat down, and we were getting water in the back of the boat.”

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400 lbs eagle ray that jumped into a boat
Image Credit: April Jones

So the family had only one option left: to return to shore. The trip took about 15 to 20 minutes and the family kept pouring water over the eagle ray to keep it alive. “We drove to the closest boat launch, which happened to be where the Dauphin Island Sea Lab was,” Jones continued. “I ran into the lab to see if anyone could help get her out. In the meantime, some people had come to the boat and helped her get out.” 

At that point, the family discovered an unbelievable development: “She had delivered four babies. We had no idea when she did it. They were not moving.”  

Read: Whales Return to Antarctic Feeding Areas for First Time in Decades

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Rays Give Birth Under Stress

When staff members from the Sea Lab arrived, they found the babies were not alive. “So we donated them to the Sea Lab,” said  Jones. “They said they would use them to show kids and tell the story about [the] mom — and how rare it was to see an eagle ray.” 

Overall, the creature was estimated to be around 400 pounds and 7 feet wide. Jones, fortunately, was not stung when the ray hit her but she went to the ER where the doctors said she likely had shoulder strain.

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But this experience shows something unique about the species. When they are under stress, they will give birth. The staff at the lab theorized the mother ray had jumped into the boat because a parasite was attached to her. Leaping out of the water would have removed it. After this ordeal, the eagle ray was released back into the water. 

Brian Jones, the curator of the Alabama Aquarium, Dauphin Island Sea Lab, said, “It’s not uncommon for wild animals to release their young when they feel their life is in danger.” In giving birth, the parents hope the babies are developed enough to survive and continue their genes. [2]

When it comes to eagle rays, they are known to give birth when caught by fishermen. Sometimes the babies are developed and can swim away but some are premature and can’t survive. “It’s difficult to tell from their appearance,” he said, “if the young spotted eagle rays from this encounter were stillborn or not. I’m fairly confident the family would have noticed them on the deck of their boat if the pups were alive and well.”

Read: Rare Footage of Giant Phantom Jellyfish from 3,200 Feet Under the Sea

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More About the Spotted Eagle Ray

Spotted eagle rays live all over the world in warm coastal waters, although they can migrate long distances in deep water. These creatures are predators, their diet contains mostly mollusks, crabs, and gastropods and sometimes octopus, shrimp, worms, and small fish. When rays swim, they are quick and graceful. They can travel alone or in large schools, especially when crossing long distances. They can also leap out of the water to remove a parasite, some scientists theorize. [3]

As seen in the Jones’ story, rays reproduce through internal fertilization and give birth to live babies who are developed enough to survive on their own. This limits the rays’ abilities to reproduce making them rare, and according to some experts ‘near threatened’ with extinction. [4] Fortunately, they are not fishing targets although they are sometimes accidental bycatch. Still, they require conservation efforts, especially to protect their habitats.

As coastal populations and development increase, there is more potential for whitespotted eagle rays to interact with human activities,” said Matt Ajemian, Ph.D., and assistant research professor at FAU’s Harbor Branch. “In addition, intense coastal development such as dredging, construction, and pollution have been linked to habitat alteration, which may change the abundance and distribution of this species as has been documented with shark species in degraded habitats.” [5]

Keep Reading: Bizarre ‘Road to Atlantis’ Discovered In Unexplored Part of Pacific Ocean

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Sources

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  1. “In Alabama, rare 400-pound spotted eagle ray jumps into boat, gives birth.” Fox13. Ashley Papa. July 20, 2022
  2. “A massive eagle ray leapt into an Alabama family’s boat and gave birth.” CBC. Ashley Papa. July 26, 2022
  3. “Spotted Eagle Ray.” Lamar University
  4. “Spotted Eagle Ray.” Oceana
  5. “Biotelemetry provides unique glimpse into whitespotted eagle rays’ behavior.” Science Daily. Florida Atlantic University. July 22, 2020
Sarah Biren
Freelance Writer
Sarah is a baker, cook, author, and blogger living in Toronto. She believes that food is the best method of healing and a classic way of bringing people together. In her spare time, Sarah does yoga, reads cookbooks, writes stories, and finds ways to make any type of food in her blender.
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