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August 2009

Jo O'Keefe Copyright 2009. Photos may be used for educational purposes only. Contact me with inquiries.

Smooth Butterfly Ray, Gymnura micrura, juvenile, first, Sunset Beach, NC, 08/20/09

Life was anything but normal in Sunset Beach tide pools yesterday and today. Yesterday when I first stepped onto the beach, I saw a peaceful scene of low tide waves lapping against sand, gulls looking for something to eat, and visitors strolling.

Yet visitors found many eels in the tide pools. I had not seen an eel in 15 years. Many people asked me about them both yesterday and today. This afternoon a friend at Oak Island said that folks there also saw them. I watched a Herring Gull struggle to catch one and then delighted in seeing him swallow it inch by inch.

Today there were Smooth Butterfly Rays, all juvenile and small, perhaps six inches wide. It seems to me that they are too young to know that they should "go with the flow" when the tide goes out. I taught one family how to catch them. In turn, that mother showed another family how to do it. After fast photo sessions, the children carried each ray to the ocean in a bucket of sea water. To me, the greatest pleasure was seeing the children overcome their reluctance to touch the rays and to learn to pick them up and turn them over. They were always concerned about the well being of the rays and thankful when I finished taking photos.

I can hardly believe that today I spent my entire "walk" in one tide pool! We had so much fun!

Smooth Butterfly Ray, Gymnura micrura, juvenile, second, Sunset Beach, NC, 08/20/09
Herring Gull catching and eating eel, Sunset Beach, NC, 08/19/09
Sunset Beach, NC, 08/19/09

Smooth Butterfly Ray, Gymnura micrura, juvenile, Sunset Beach, NC, 08/13/09

I have learned that Smooth Butterfly Rays range in width from 12 inches to three and four feet. Thus this one and the one found last month in tide pools are juveniles because at most they were 12 inches wide. Like juveniles of many species that I encounter, they had not learned appropriate behavior and literally did not go with the flow when the tide went out. Although Smooth Butterfly Rays are known to change color like octopi to blend with their surroundings -- and perhaps from fear, it is possible that younger specimens are light-colored. Smooth Butterfly Rays lack a tail spine or "barb" and therefore will not harm humans.

Willets, Catoptrophorus semipalmatus, in breeding plumage, Sunset Beach, NC, 08/13/09