Since we broke track for one of these sightings, we were able to snap a few quick photos of the rays before returning to our survey, one of which you can see below. From a distance, these groups of rays, which varied from 50-150 individuals, look similar to water lilies floating on the surface of the water.
Cownose rays (aka: cowfish and skeete) get their name because of their squared, indented snout that resembles a cow’s nose. Their wingspan can reach up to 3 feet in length and they can weigh up to 50 pounds. Their distribution includes a large part of the western Atlantic (from New England to Florida), the Gulf of Mexico, and they can migrate as far south as Brazil. As migratory animals, it is believed that they move north in the spring and south in the fall in the Atlantic. So, perhaps the rays that we saw on the first day of spring were heading north. Based on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) status, cownose rays are listed as "near-threatened". This means that although they do not qualify for "threatened" status, they could be considered threatened in the near future and the population should be re-evaluated regularly.
Learn how divers care for the cownose rays in the Giant Ocean Tank at the Aquarium! And here is an interesting video of the Aquarium's cownose ray swimming in the GOT.