Call for summer beachcombers to hunt for skate egg cases

Walkers, divers and fishermen in Argyll are being asked to report sightings of common skate egg cases, to help Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) learn more about where the huge fish are breeding.

The call for information comes after a Marine Protected Area (MPA) for common skate was put in place last year between Loch Sunart and the Sound of Jura. The west coast of Scotland and Orkney appear to be the last strongholds for the critically endangered fish in the UK.

As its name suggests, the common skate was once widely distributed and was an important part of the inshore commercial fishery. However the numbers of skate have fallen dramatically in most coastal areas of the UK and it is now classed as critically endangered. Living in deep, dark water, common skate grow to up to 3m in length, live for up to 100 years and weigh over 15 stone. They are the largest species of skate in Europe and research shows that although most fish move only small distances, they can swim for more than 200 km. Like some other sharks, skates and rays, common skate reproduce by laying tough, leathery egg cases on the seabed which often become trapped between rocks by the curved ‘horns’ at the corners of the case. Each egg case holds a tiny embryo which develops over several months into a miniature skate. Once the tiny fish has hatched, the egg case, also known as a mermaid’s purse, often washes ashore on nearby beaches. Jane Dodd, SNH marine operations officer said: “We’d like everyone in Argyll to look out for skate egg cases, particularly people going to the beach over the summer holidays. And if you are a diver and remember seeing them on a dive please scour your log book and let us know where, when and how many you saw – even if you can only give us approximate dates and locations this might help us solve the mystery of when and where skate lay their eggs.

“Common skate egg cases are the largest egg cases you are likely to find – and the rarest. They are about the size of an A4 sheet of paper – roughly 30cm long and 15cm across – with short slightly curved “horns” at the corners, so they are easy to distinguish from other shark and ray egg cases which are much smaller. Newly hatched egg cases are olive green and leathery and older ones are black but if they have dried in the strandline, which is probably the best place to look for them, they can have a coating of brown, papery, bark-like material.

For more information about what to look for join the Shark Trust Great Eggcase Hunt at http://www.eggcase.org. It will help you identify any egg cases you find. “Please take away any skate egg cases you find on the beach so they won’t be reported again by someone else and email us at skate@snh.gov.uk with the location, date and time you found them. If you can attach a photo of the egg case as well, with a ruler or a 2 pence piece for scale that would be great. You can also ring me at the SNH office in Oban on 0300 244 9360. We will forward on any sightings of common skate egg cases to the Shark Trust. Any other shark or ray egg cases you find can be reported straight to the Shark Trust Great Eggcase Hunt.”

One comment

  • Hi
    It appears that a few skate cases are being found around Tiree. Tina Nagy found one (see copy of email from Shark Trust below). Other finders are Alison Campbell from Rockvale and Catriona Spink at Pier View.

    Keep up the good work and make sure you report those findings.

    Cheers
    Steve Nagy
    Tiree Ranger Service

    Subject: The Shark Trust’s Great Eggcase Hunt

    Hi Tina,

    Thank you for submitting your eggcase find – we haven’t had many records from Tiree so it’s great to include another! Thanks also for including a photo for verification, you’re certainly right that this is the eggcase of a Common Skate (now also called the Flapper Skate). This species is actually Critically Endangered having been heavily overfished and the west coast of Scotland offers some of the last strongholds for this species. Scottish Natural Heritage are also keen to hear of records from this species to help with the monitoring of the Loch Sunart/Sound of Jura Marine Protected Area so I will also pass your record on to them.
    Your data has been added to the Great Eggcase Hunt database, which now contains over 77,000 individual records. This is an extremely valuable source of information on the potential whereabouts of shark, skate and ray nursery grounds. The identification of these critical areas will enable the Shark Trust to propose conservation measures, helping reverse the decline of these charismatic animals.
    Thanks again and I look forward to receiving any future reports from you.
    All the best,
    Cat

    Cat Gordon | Conservation Officer
    The Shark Trust, 4 Creykes Court, The Millfields, Plymouth, PL1 3JB, UK
    Tel: +44 (0)1752 672020 | Web: http://www.sharktrust.org

    Registered Charity No.1064185 | Registered Company No.3396164

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