There are over 600 different skate and ray species worldwide! And at least 16 of these live in UK waters.

Skates and rays are closely related to sharks and share many similarities. They have:

  • a skeleton made of cartilage instead of bone
  • 5 pairs of gills
  • rough skin that feels like sandpaper

But there are 2 key differences you can use to tell them apart:

  1. GILLS – the gills of a skate or ray are on the underside of their body. Whereas on a shark they're found either side of the head. When buried under the sand skates and rays rely on 2 small holes behind their eyes to breathe. We call these spiracles. But some sharks also have these.

  2. BODY SHAPE – skates and rays tend to have a wider and flatter body to that of the streamlined torpedo shaped shark.


The easiest way to tell a skate from a ray is to look at their tail.

Skates tend to have shorter and thicker tails. Rays tend to have thinner, whip-like tails. Many rays also have a stinging spine so watch out!

ZZZAP! Australia’s Coffin Ray can deliver a 200 volt electric shot to fight off predators. They can emit up to 50 shocks in 10 minutes!


Skate and ray names can be confusing in the UK because some species have been given the wrong name. And that name has stuck. For example, Thornback Rays are called rays but they're actually skates, as they lay eggs. So, they should really be called Thornback Skates.


All true skates reproduce by laying eggs on the seabed. These come in all sorts of shapes and sizes! Rays instead give birth to live young.

Great Eggcase Hunt Skate Lifecycle Poster (pdf)

► Download our Skate Lifecycle Poster (pdf)


Like sharks, skates and rays live a long time and start reproducing late in life. They also produce relatively few young. This makes them extremely vulnerable to human threats. Particularly overfishing.

Currently, skates and rays of all sizes can be fished. This means that small, younger fish are often caught before they've had a chance to reproduce. Because of this many species now face a high risk of becoming extinct.


Find out how you can help sharks, skates and rays by visiting our Take Action page.

Take Action

Banner image © Peter Smithson