Maryland: It’s Time to End Cownose Ray Killing Contests

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You probably haven’t heard of the cownose ray, an animal sometimes confused with their more famous friend, the stingray. Cownose rays are aquatic animals that look sort of like underwater kites. A cownose ray’s snout is remarkably similar looking to a cow’s nose (hence the name), and they have long, skinny tails. In summary, we are talking about a living underwater kite with the nose of a cow and the whip-like tail of a lemur.

This cow-lemur- kite lives in the Atlantic Ocean stretching from Senegal to the United States. From May to October, cownose rays settle in the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland to mate and give birth. Because these animals sound (and are) so awesome, you’d think that Maryland would feel honored to get to observe them up close. But that’s not the case. As a lifelong Maryland resident, I’m ashamed to write that instead of protections, we have contests celebrating the torture and killing of these creatures.

In these contests, cownose rays are shot with arrows, beaten with bats, and then stuffed into containers where they suffocate and die. And this is all for cash prizes. Delegate Shane Robinson and Senator Ron Young are sponsoring a bill in the Maryland legislature that would outlaw this brutal practice. Last month, Delegate Robinson published a passionate editorial in The Baltimore Sun urging us to “end the senseless slaughter of cownose rays.” He wrote, “After these contests, participants have been filmed dumping rays’ bodies back into the water or tossing them into dumpsters. This is the legal definition of wanton waste: to intentionally waste something negligently or inappropriately. It’s also blood sport.”

I’ve not heard any convincing arguments for these contests. In the past, some contest participants have claimed that these animals are harmful to oysters and shellfish. These claims have been completely debunked by a Florida scientist’s study released last year.  In reality, the opposite is true. Cownose rays are actually an essential member of the Bay ecosystem. Unfortunately, their population is in danger, and female rays only produce one pup a year. We have to protect each and every one in order to maintain the integrity of the Chesapeake Bay.

For All Animals is a proud member of the coalition, Save the Rays. The coalition includes the Animal Legal Defense Fund and Fish Feel, the only organization devoted to promoting the recognition of fish as sentient beings deserving respect. Its goal is to make these contests illegal in Maryland.

This coalition to end the killing contests in Maryland is particularly relevant after the announcement about Ringling Brothers. The 146 year old circus is finally folding, much to the relief of the elephant “performers” abused and chained for our entertainment. While the path to true animal protection is long, perhaps we’ve turned a corner in how the public views animals in entertainment. And cownose ray killing contests are nothing but entertainment for some people with a perverted sense of fun. Thank you Delegate Robinson and Senator Young for working to stop it.

Elizabeth ‘Liz’ Holtz is For All Animals’ director of legislative affairs. She is an animal rights attorney and lifelong animal advocate. Liz manages For All Animals’ coalition efforts to pass state laws that protect animals—like strengthening anti-cruelty laws—and defeating laws that harm animals—like ag-gag laws. She also oversees For All Animals’ Attorney at Paw program, which provides assistance to advocates interested in passing laws and ordinances that protect animals on a local level.