The pregnant ray gave birth in the boat to four pups that didn't survive
A woman competing in the 2022 Alabama Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo was having some bad luck. She hadn’t caught a thing while fishing in the waters off of the Sand Island lighthouse on Friday, July 15, 2022. She had just told her husband she was ready to move to a new spot when she was hit by what she at first thought was a large wave.
April Jones told al.com, “Water came in. I felt something hit me. I told my husband I must have blacked out for a second, because I didn’t know what was going on, anything like that, and I hear banging and clanging in the back of the boat. My son was screaming, my husband was like, ‘What is that?’ His grandfather was in the back with him. They were freaking out, wondering what it was. The three of them thought it was a shark. I didn’t know what it was. I just saw a blob.”
Turns out that a large, rare spotted eagle ray weighing hundreds of pounds had jumped into the boat.
“She was flapping around in the boat trying to get out,” said Jones.
The ray eventually got wedged into a spot in the back of the boat. When Jones and her family tried to lift the ray back into the water, they realized it was too heavy. They were also worried about getting stuck by the venomous spines near the base of its tail.
“She’s on the back of the boat. There are waves coming into the boat,” Jones said. “We didn’t know if it was going to sink or not. It’s a small boat.”
With the ray still in the boat, Jones’ husband drove to the boat launch at Dauphin Island’s east end. Jones ran to the Dauphin Island Sea Lab for help. But when she returned, bystanders had already lifted the ray back into the water, where she appeared to recover and swim off. But she had been pregnant, and because she was under stress, had given birth to four babies in the boat, but all were dead.
The Sea Lab's Estuarium kept the baby rays for study and display.
Brian Jones, senior aquarist at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab’s Estuarium, said that based on Jones’ photos, the ray could easily have weighed 300 pounds or more.
Jones, who suffered a bruised shoulder, was lucky she and her other family members weren’t seriously injured. In fact, spotted eagle rays have been known to leap into boats. In 2008, a woman riding in a boat in the Florida Keys was killed by an impact with a jumping ray.
“I feel like I’m pretty tough...My shoulder was kind of swollen up and I was in quite a bit of pain. I think once the adrenaline wore off, that’s when the pain hit,” she said. “I told the emergency room people, no one’s going to believe this, but I have pictures.”
According to Alabama Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo President Mark Schambeau, this year's 89th annual tournament is a record year in fish caught.
WKRG reports that anglers caught more than 3,000 fish during the event, including several large tiger sharks – the biggest one weighing 674.2 pounds.
Stephanie Mallory is a mom, a hunter and Realtree’s PR Coordinator. She’s here to deliver an insider’s look at the outdoor business and give her opinion on all things outdoors—whether you asked for it or not.