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SKATES & RAYS
Skates and rays are very closely related to sharks but are flatter in shape, which makes them well suited for life on the sea-floor. Their mouth, nostrils and gills are located on the underside of their body, while their eyes and spiracles (small breathing holes) are located on top. These spiracles are particularly important to skates and rays because they spend so much of their time buried in the sand, where they’re unable to use their gills. This behaviour is both a hunting and defence strategy, enabling them to hide from predators or lie in wait of unsuspecting prey.
There are over 600 types of skate and ray worldwide including, the graceful Manta Ray, which is the largest ray in the world reaching up to 9m, the electric rays that can deliver a powerful shock, and the rostrum wielding sawfish, which uses it’s saw like snout to stun its prey.
DID YOU KNOW? – Australia’s Coffin Ray can pack a 200 volt kick to fight off predators and is able to emit up to 50 shocks in 10 minutes!
SKATE OR RAY?
Electric rays, sawfish and guitarfish tend to be easier to identify, however other rays, such as stingrays, butterfly rays and devil rays can be trickier.
There are a number of subtle physical differences but the tail may provide the best clue - a skate’s tail tends to be stockier, whereas a ray’s is slender and whip-like. Some rays have a stinging spine on the tail, which skate do not have.
Another key difference is that skates reproduce by laying eggs, whereas rays give birth to live young.
SKATES & RAYS IN BRITISH WATERS
In the UK, species with long snouts are often known as skates, while those with shorter snouts are called rays. However, this isn’t scientifically accurate and can cause confusion, for example the Thornback Ray is called a ray but is actually a skate. To avoid confusion, we refer to skates and rays by their common British names.
There are around 18 species of skates and rays that are regularly found in UK waters, but only 8 are commonly encountered. There have also been a few reports of vagrant Giant Devil Rays, Common Eagle Rays and Pelagic Stingrays.
ID GUIDES & FACTSHEETS:
WHY NOT BECOME A CITIZEN SCIENTIST?
Help us search the shores for washed up shark and skate eggcases! Eggcase hunting is great fun for all the family and you’ll be helping shark conservation at the same time. Visit our Great Eggcase Hunt page to find out more.
SKATES & RAYS UNDER THREAT
A recent study found that large, flat-bodied coastal species are most vulnerable to extinction. In the UK, larger skates (such as the White Skate and Flapper Skate) have become some of the most threatened species in British waters. Their biological traits (slow growing, late to mature, producing few young and being long lived) along with their body shape, make them especially vulnerable to overfishing. If juveniles are caught before they've reached breeding age, then populations have limited potential to recover.
One of the most endangered species in the UK is the Common Skate (or Flapper Skate). This is the largest skate in the world with a maximum wingspan of just under 3m.This skate was once common around the British Isles, however it's now absent from much of its former range, largely due to unsustainable fishing throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. A recent discovery actually revealed that the Common Skate is in fact two different species that have long been confused under the same name – we now known them as the Blue Skate and the Flapper Skate.
HOW CAN YOU HELP
There are a number of ways you can help, from getting involved in our projects, becoming a member or adding your voice to one of our campaigns - find out more by visiting our Get Involved page.