A family boated a bit more than they expected during the Alabama Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo on Friday, July 15.
April Jones was fishing with her son, husband, and father-in-law, when suddenly she felt something large hit her body. At first she thought it was a wave, she told AL.com. Then Jones turned around and saw a huge, 400-pound spotted eagle ray flopping around in the back of the boat.
The spotted eagle ray had launched itself out of the ocean and into the boat in distress. It was thought to have a remora, or suckerfish, attached to it, which Jones theorized may have been the cause for its distressful jump.
According to the Georgia Aquarium, spotted eagle rays get their name from the unique shape of their snouts, which are round and pointed at the tip, resembling a bird’s beak. It is not uncommon for them to grow up to 16 feet long and weigh more than 500 pounds. Females typically grow larger than males.
Despite their size, eagle rays are graceful swimmers that can leap above the surface several times in a row.
The Jones family, who at the time were near the Sand Island Lighthouse off Dauphin Island, attempted to lift her up to return her to the water, but she was too heavy.
"We thought she'd be able to get herself out of the boat, but due to her weight, she couldn't get herself out," Jones told Fox News. "We tried to get her out, but she weighed too much."
They headed to the nearest launch to get help, which happened to be located at the Alabama Aquarium’s Dauphin Island Sea Lab. During the 20-minute ride to back to shore, they poured water on the eagle ray to keep her alive.
When they got to the boat ramp, people nearby rushed to help to lift the heavy spotted eagle ray off the boat and release her back to the water.
Once they lifted the eagle ray, they discovered that she had given birth to four pups while onboard.
"It's not uncommon for wild animals to release their young when they feel their life is in danger,” Brian Jones, curator of the Alabama Aquarium’s Dauphin Island Sea Lab, told Fox News. “Ray species are known to produce young when captured by fishermen. Occasionally, these young are fully developed and are able to swim away successfully. At other times, the young are produced prematurely and do not survive."
All four pups were found deceased and donated to the Alabama Aquarium’s Dauphin Island Sea Lab.
Jones later sought emergency care for her the injuries she sustained when the eagle ray collided with her mid-leap. She was diagnosed with a shoulder strain and sore collar bone from the impact. Spotted eagle rays have venomous spines on their tails that they use when feeling threatened, luckily Jones was not stung.
Images via WPDE ABC 15 Facebook page.