This month we're showcasing the Bowmouth Guitarfish, also known as the Shark Ray…

This species belongs to a family of rays known as the wedgefishes, who resemble both sharks and rays in appearance. For this reason some scientists think they could be the missing link between these two groups.

The Bowmouth Guitarfish has large pectoral fins - like a ray. But their body tapers in at the back, becoming more streamlined, and ends with a powerful tail - like a shark. Yet because their gills are positioned on the underside of their body, they’re classified as a ray.

Blueish grey/brown in colour, they’re covered in lots of white spots, with black spots on their head and shoulders. Underneath they are white. This counter shading is common in sharks and helps to conceal them from predators and prey both above and below. In captivity, it’s been observed that Bowmouth Guitarfish can also change colour to better blend into their surroundings.

One of the most distinctive features of the Bowmouth Guitarfish is their broad round snout, which is shaped like a bow – thus its name. Dark bands are visible between their eyes and spiracles (‘breathing’ holes that sit behind the eyes). They have bony ridges above their eyes, giving them a prominent set of “eyebrows”. And these are truly formidable, containing a row of defensive spiky thorns! It’s thought that they may use these to head-butt potential predators.

A ridged row of thorns also runs along their back and shoulders, protecting vital parts of their body.

Bowmouth Guitarfish give birth to litters of 2-11 pups, which are born ~50cm long. Pups are much darker in colour, becoming lighter as they get older.

It’s not known how long they live in the wild, but in captivity they live around 7 years. Being solitary animals they tend to keep to their own territories.

  • SCIENTIFIC NAME: Rhina ancylostoma

  • FAMILY: Rhinidae (Wedgefishes)

  • MAXIMUM SIZE: 2.7m

  • DIET: Crustaceans and molluscs that live on the ocean floor - such as crabs, lobsters, and clams. Their flat, heavily ridged teeth make short work of even the toughest shells. They'll also prey on bony fish.

  • DISTRIBUTION: Tropical waters of the Indo-West Pacific.

  • HABITAT: Prefer coastal shallow waters, coral reefs, and mangroves at depths of 1-20m, but have been recorded as deep as 70m. Bottom-dwelling preferring sandy or muddy substrates.

  • CONSERVATION STATUS: Critically Endangered


BOWMOUTH GUITARFISH PROPOSED AT CITES

Relatively little is known about the Bowmouth Guitarfish, or any of the other 9 species belonging to the wedgefish family. Yet available data suggests severe population declines and even localised extinctions.

In fact Rhino Rays (wedgefishes and giant guitarfishes) are now officially the most threatened family of marine fish. Highlighting the need for immediate conservation action.

These rays are highly-prized for their meat and fins, which are considered the most valuable on the market. Without better protection they’ll continue to be heavily overfished, driving further declines and threatening the survival of wild populations.

In August, all 10 wedgefishes and 6 giant guitarfish are proposed for listing at the next Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) Conference of Parties (CoP). Where we’ll be advocating for listing of all these vulnerable species and highlighting the need for fisheries reform.

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