There are over 560 species of skate and ray across the world, although only a fraction of these are found in British waters. Below are profiles of some of the less common species of ray found around the British Isles. While some of these species – such as the blonde ray – may be caught by UK shore anglers on something approaching a regular basis, others, such as the sandy ray, are very rarely caught due to the deep water environments in which they live and feed.
Scroll down to read through the different types of ray, or click on one of the species names to jump to that section: Cuckoo Ray, Common Eagle Ray, Blonde Ray, Starry Ray, Spotted Ray, Bottled Nosed Ray, Sandy Ray.
- Scientific name: Leucoraja naevus
- UK shore caught record: 4lb 10oz
- ICUN Status: LC (Least Concern) business
- Description: Triangular shape with pointed snout and short tail. Colour is mostly a light brown with occasional stripes and dark marks. Two clear dark spots speckled with white marks are located in the centre of each wing, making this species easy to identify. A triangle of thorns can be found on the back and around the eyes and two rows of thorns run down the tail.
The cuckoo ray is found around the south and west of the British Isles. There is a concentration of cuckoo ray in the Celtic Sea, with others found off the coast of Wales and western Scotland and in the English Channel and southern North Sea. They can show up occasionally elsewhere in British waters. They prefer deeper water of around thirty metres and deeper. Cuckoo ray do not grow particularly large, measuring three feet across at their largest and weighing up to 10lbs, although they are usually smaller than this. Cuckoo ray are opportunistic hunters and will take marine worms, molluscs, crustaceans and small fish. They can be difficult to handle due to the sharp thorns on their body and their jaws are very powerful to allow them to crunch through the shells of mussels and crabs. They are a very rare catch from the shore as they do not usually come within range of shore anglers, but they can be caught by boat anglers. Cuckoo ray are not commercially valuable and when they are caught in the nets of trawlers they are usually thrown back into the sea dead as bycatch. Despite the fact the IUCN classes them as a species of Least Concern, ICES (International Council for the Exploration of the Sea) states that catches of this species need to be reduced by 30 – 40% in order to stop this species from declining further in number.
- Scientific name: Myliobatis aquila
- Also known as: Bull Ray, Sea Eagle, Whip Ray
- UK shore caught record: No record stands. Qualifying weight set at 15lbs.
- ICUN Status: DD (Data Deficient)
- Description: Large pointed wings and protruding snout. Whip-like tail is very long, often double or treble the length of the body. There is a very small dorsal fin set far back on the tail. Colour can be brown, olive or black with a pale underside. Can sometimes have very small spines on the body and the tail conceals one (in some specimens two) large venomous spiny stinger which are used in defence.
The common eagle ray is a species mostly found in the warmer waters of the Mediterranean and all around the coast of Africa. It can, however, very occasionally be found in the southern parts of the British Isles in the southern North Sea, English Channel, Celtic Sea and southern and western parts of England and Ireland during summer months. A fully grown eagle ray is typically three feet across from wingtip to wingtip, weighing 15lbs, although exceptionally they can be up to five feet across and weigh over 50lbs. It can be found in depths of water ranging from very shallow waters all the way down to several hundred metres deep. Common eagle ray swim over sandy, clean ground looking for food, often in small groups. They generally prefer calm conditions. They will eat marine, worms and crustaceans, and also take small fish that they come across. Common eagle ray have very powerful jaws with several rows of blunt teeth to crunch through crabs and lobsters which they can dig out of the seabed with their snout and wings.
Little is known of the extent of the common eagle ray stocks in British waters, but it is thought that they only visit in the warmer months. They are caught as bycatch in trawls and retained as the flesh is highly prized and the liver can be used for fish oil. The remainder of the fish is often processed for fishmeal. Common eagle rays are classed as Near Threatened in the Mediterranean by the IUCN, although overall it is classed as Data Deficient. It is a dangerous species as it has a large stinger concealed in its tail, similar to the stingray’s, and in exceptional cases two stingers may be present. However, like the common stingray the eagle ray only uses the stinger in defence. Despite being armed with this stinger common eagle rays are shy creatures which move away from divers and avoid confrontation, with the only threat to humans coming when they are caught and landed on a boat and thrash around. Although common eagle ray have been caught from boats in UK waters the are not caught from the shore. There is no UK shore caught record and the qualifying weight is set at 15lbs.
- Scientific name: Raja brachyura
- UK shore caught record: 32lb 8oz (joint record)
- ICUN Status: NT (Near Threatened)
- Description: Diamond shape with a short, pointed snout. Most commonly light brown/yellow in colour, covered in black spots (which run to very edge of wings) with larger light spots dotted around body. Underside is pale. Females have an uninterrupted row of spines running down the back, males have a row of spines with gaps. Skin smooth when immature but covered in small thorns when fully grown.
Blonde ray can have a wingspan approaching five feet and weigh 40lbs, although most are smaller than this. They live over soft sand and muddy seabeds in depths all of the way down to almost one thousand metres, although typically they live in a few hundred metres depth. Blonde ray will be found in shallower water when immature and also come into coastal waters to lay their eggs in rocky, coastal waters in the breeding season of spring and early summer. Blonde ray mature late at ten years of age and have a low reproductive capacity. This makes them vulnerable to overfishing.
Like most other ray and skate species blonde ray are opportunistic feeders. They have powerful crunching jaws and will feed on crabs, lobsters, shellfish and molluscs, and also take small fish and sandeels at times. Due to their preference for fairly deep water the blonde ray are a rare catch from the shore, although there are points around the west of England and Ireland that will produce this species from shore marks. Blonde ray are caught more often from charter and pleasure boats. The shore caught record for this species in unusual in the fact that it is jointly held between two anglers. C. Reeves caught a blonde ray of 32lb 8oz from the Channel Islands in 1986, with K. Frain catching another blonde ray of the exact same weight, also from the Channel Islands, in 1994.
- Scientific name: Amblyraja radiata
- Also known as: Thorny Skate
- UK shore caught record: Data Unavailable
- ICUN Status: VU (Vulnerable)
- Description: Diamond shaped body which is usually a dark brown colour, although can be lighter and can feature dark greenish patches. Small black spots can also be present. A single row of small spines run down the central section of the body and can continue down the tail. Further spines can cover the rest of the body. Underside is pale.
The starry ray is a small ray species, reaching a maximum of around three feet across. Like the spotted ray they rarely come into shallow water and prefer depths of around thirty metres. The starry ray inhabits muddy, sandy and shingle seabeds, although it can venture over mixed ground to hunt. The starry ray prefers colder waters meaning it is found in the northern parts of the British Isles and in Icelandic and Scandinavian waters. It is also found on the east coast of the USA and Canada. It will feed on bottom dwelling crustaceans such as crabs and prawns and will also feed on flatfish such as dab and small flounder and plaice and hunt roundfish such as whiting and small cod. The starry ray is thought to be one of the more abundant ray species in European waters but like all skate and ray species it is highly susceptible to being caught in trawl nets, where it is usually thrown back into the sea as worthless bycatch. In US and Canadian waters the numbers of starry ray are seriously depleted, leading to this species being classed overall as Vulnerable. Due to the fact that the starry ray stays offshore in deep water it is rarely caught by sea anglers, and when it is caught it is often mistaken for a thornback ray.
- Scientific name: Raja montagui
- UK shore caught record: 8lb 5oz
- ICUN Status: LC (Least Concern)
- Description: Diamond shaped body with long tail. Can have small thorns towards the front of the body and along the centre of the body, sometimes running all of the way down the tail. Body is tan, light brown or cream with dark brown to black spots which fade towards the edges of the wings. There is usually a larger, lighter spot in the centre of each wing.
Spotted ray are a small ray species, reaching a maximum of around 10lb, but averaging around half of this size. They do not come into particularly shallow water, rarely venturing into depths less than twenty or thirty metres. They are generally found towards the west of the British Isles. Spotted ray are often confused with blonde ray. However, on the spotted ray the black spots stop before the edge of the wings, whereas in the blonde ray they go right up to the very edges.
The diet of the spotted ray is mostly made up of crustaceans and prawns and they will also eat small flatfish such as dab. When fully grown they may also hunt small fish such as sprats and lesser sandeels. They are a fairly rare catch from the shore, although deep-water marks may produce spotted ray during the colder months as the spotted ray come close to the shore to lay their eggs near in the shelter of rocks and broken ground. Peeler crab and sandeels are the best baits to try, on clipped down single hook rigs. Strong hook patterns should be used, but hook size should be quite small at around 1/0 due to the fact that this ray does not grown to particularly large sizes.
- Scientific name: Rostroraja alba
- Also known as: Spear Nosed Skate, White Skate, Bordered Skate
- UK shore caught record: No record stands. Qualifying weight set at 15lbs.
- ICUN Status: EN (Endangered)
- Description: Large species of ray which can be up to two and a half metres long including the tail. Its name comes from the sharp, pointed snout which this species has. A small number of spines may be present near the snout, while there are also three rows of spines running down the tail. Colour is generally a light brown, with black edges to the wings.
The bottle nosed ray is a large species of ray which has unfortunately had its numbers and range of distribution severely reduced by overfishing. This species was once present all throughout the Mediterranean, the English Channel, Irish Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, and could be found all the way along the western coast of Africa. However, overfishing of this species and the high levels of bycatch have seen its numbers seriously reduced. Today the bottle nosed ray is rare throughout many of the areas where it used to be common, and only the south and western coasts of Britain and Ireland hold any chance of having bottle nosed ray present. The IUCN class the species as Endangered on a global basis, and Critically Endangered in the North East Atlantic, and it is on Greenpeace’s Redlist of species to avoid. While the bottle nosed ray was seen as a valuable food fish throughout Europe it is now present in such low numbers that there is no specific commercial fishery for this species, although it is still kept for human consumption if it is caught in multi-species trawls. In 2009 European Union fishery laws were passed stating that the bottle nosed ray had to be returned to the sea if it was caught by commercial vessels, and fishermen could no longer specifically target this species. Since ray species do not have swim bladders they are in with a chance of surviving if they are returned to the sea by commercial fishermen.
Little is known about the life cycle of the bottle nosed ray. It is thought to feed on crustaceans, small fish, octopus and squid. Generally this species will live in water around fifty metres deep, but can be found down to depths of five hundred metres. There is little information about the breeding pattern of this species, although it is known to be slow growing and late maturing, meaning that rebuilding stocks will take a very long time, even if the commercial fishing practices which are depleting this species are curtailed. There is currently no shore caught record for the bottle nosed ray, and the qualifying weight is set at 15lbs. Any angler lucky enough to catch this rare and endangered species should return it to the sea.
- Scientific name: Leucoraja circularis
- UK shore caught record: No record stands. Qualifying weight set at 2lbs.
- ICUN Status: VU (Vulnerable)
- Description: This species of ray can grow up to one and a half metres long (including the tail) but is usually half of this size. Colour is generally a light brown/yellow, sometimes with a reddish tinge, with several large pale spots on the body. Small thorns are present on the snout and larger thorns will be found on the back and running down the tail.
A deep water species of ray which is rarely encountered by UK anglers. This species generally live and feed in sandy and muddy seabeds at least one hundred metres deep, and can be found in water even deeper than this. In UK waters it has a fairly widespread but sparse distribution, being found around the south and west coasts of the UK, and also in the northern North Sea. Elsewhere its range extends from Scandinavia, throughout Europe and along the northern coasts of Africa. The sandy ray feeds on all manner of bottom dwelling creatures with crabs, lobsters, small fish, octopus and squid all taken. Like the bottle nosed ray above this species has had its numbers hugely reduced by commercial fishing. In 2008 this species was evaluated as being Vulnerable by the IUCN, but continued research showed that the sandy ray was now absent in many areas where it was once found such as the Celtic Sea.