Computer systems engineer Amita Vadlamudi has more than three decades of experience in the information technology industry. Amita Vadlamudi also maintains an interest in marine biology and ocean creatures such as cownose rays.
An open water species found in tropical and temperate waters as well as parts of the Atlantic Ocean, cownose rays engage in mass migration twice a year. These endurance swimmers are built to traverse long distances using flexible, wing-like fins that extend from either side of their bodies, which often breach the water’s surface as they glide through the ocean. Cownose rays grow up to seven feet in length from wingtip to wingtip and reach maturity between four and five years old. Lifespans may vary according to distribution and migration route, with rays in the Gulf of Mexico living up to 18 years and populations in the western Atlantic Ocean only living to 13.
Migration occurs twice a year in large numbers. Groups in the Atlantic Ocean migrate southward in the late fall and northward in spring, although southbound groups often possess a larger population. Schools in the Gulf of Mexico often migrate clockwise, with each school consisting of around 10,000 individuals. Although marine biologists theorize that solar orientation and changes in water temperature may influence the onset of migration, this is not consistently true. For example, migration of the cownose ray population in Florida’s Pine Island Sound seems more influenced by predator avoidance and food availability.