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June 29, 2022

Photo shows giant ray approaching surfer off the coast of Wildwood

The encounter happened earlier this month in the water at Rambler Road beach

Wildlife Marine Life
Wildwood Ray Surfer Photo Thom Carroll/for PhillyVoice

A surfer had an up-close and personal experience with a ray off the coast of Wildwood earlier in June.

Close encounters with ocean dwelling animals are far from uncommon at the Jersey Shore.

In the last several years, we've had a whale collide with a fishing boat off the coast of Deal in Monmouth County, and a humpback surface feet from a paddle boarder off Long Branch. Lifeguards rescued a dolphin stranded ashore in Sea Isle City and a so-called "dolphin whisperer" captured videos of a pod off the coast of Stone Harbor. A 279-pound sea turtle was rescued off the coast of Avalon.

Earlier this month, a great white shark was filmed just feet from a fishing boat off the coast of Sea Isle City. The list goes on, and just for fun, we'll throw in this incredible video of a raccoon surviving a nine-story plunge from a building on the Ocean City boardwalk.

This week, we've got a pretty awesome photo of a huge ray that surfaced a few feet away from a surfer off the coast of Wildwood. The photo is a bit blurry, but in a way, that almost enhances the reaction when your eyes lock in on the surfer looking back at the belly-flopping ray.

Commenters on the Instagram post said the photo was captured earlier in June off the Rambler Road beach. One commenter said this type of experience is fairly typical, since many ray species tend to stay near the surface of the water.

"I've done this at Sandy Hook ... the rays love swimming with people," commenter @sonicfeather wrote. "They actually seem to enjoy the human company in the water." 

The Jersey Shore is home to a range of ray and skate species, including clearnose and barndoor skates, roughtail stingrays, bluntnose stingrays, bullnose rays and spiny butterfly rays. Cownose rays also have become common off the coast of New Jersey, where they tend to travel from the south during this time of year because the water is warmer. They're usually docile, but will occasionally sting people, as happened to a fisherman off the coast of Harvey Cedars in 2018.

It's unclear from the Wildwood photo what type of ray was next to the surfer, but it's unlikely that the person pictured was in any serious danger. Most rays are not aggressive toward people unless directly provoked, and some research suggests they might even like to be touched by humans — although it's not recommended, especially in the wild. 

Stingrays are sometimes regarded as dangerous because of the tragic death of famed Australian wildlife expert Steve Irwin, who was pierced in the chest with a short-tail stingray barb while filming a documentary in 2006. Human deaths attributed to stingrays are less common than those that result from bee stings.

As always, people who see wild animals at the shore should use common sense and avoid touching or provoking them. Unless accompanied by a trained expert, it's the best way to keep people and animals safe.