Sharks, skates and rays are known collectively as elasmobranchs. Elasmobranchs are a group of fish characterised by cartilaginous - not bony - skeletons, 5-7 gill openings on each side and several rows of teeth which are continually replaced, amongst other distinct traits.

A wide range of elasmobranch species are resident in, or visit, UK waters - including all the species listed below, which form the main focus of Shark By-Watch UK's work.

For detailed ID guides on all the species of shark, skate and ray to be found around the UK coast, please follow the links below.

Sharks studied by Shark By-Watch UK

Porbeagle (Latin name: Lamna nasus)

The porbeagle is a species of mackerel shark, distributed widely in the cold and temperate marine waters of the North Atlantic and
Southern hemisphere. The porbeagle typically reaches around 8.2ft in length. It is an opportunistic hunter that preys mainly on bony fishes and cephalopods throughout the water column.

Read a detailed ID guide.

Basking Shark (Latin name: Cetorhinus maximus)

Basking sharks are the second largest living fish, after the whale shark. It is a migratory species, found in all the world's temperate oceans. It is a slow-moving filter feeder, and uses highly developed 'gill rakers' to catch plankton as water filters through the mouth and over the gills.

Read a detailed ID guide.

Spurdog (also known as Spiny dogfish, Latin name: Squalas acanthias)

Spurdog are widely distributed, and around the UK are particularly found along the Western coasts of England, Scotland and Ireland. These large dogfish grow up to 4ft in length and 20lbs in weight. Spurdog feed predominantly on small fish such as flounder, plaice, codling and sprats.

Read a detailed ID guide.


Skates & Rays studied by Shark By-Watch UK 2

Thornback ray

Thornback ray is one of the most common rays species found around the UK and is regularly caught by commercial fisherman and recreational anglers. Thornbacks are seasonally migratory and spend the winter months in deeper waters, coming into shallow waters (generally with a soft-substrate or mud botton) in the spring and summer to breed.

Read a detailed ID guide.

Blonde ray (Latin name: Raja brachyura)

The blonde ray is actually a relatively large-bodied skate, found in the Northeast Atlantic and western Mediterranean Sea. The blonde ray lives on soft substrates and inhabits depths of up to 150m in the Atlantic and up to 300m in the Mediterranean. It is targeted in fisheries where it is locally abundant, and often occurs as by-catch in mixed demersal trawl and gill-net fisheries.

Read a detailed ID guide.

Small-eyed ray (also known as the painted ray, Latin name: Raja microocellata).

The small-eyed ray is short-snouted ray, with tightly-packed, low-lying spines down the body. Small-eyed ray is found year-round in UK waters, particularly in the southwest of England and Ireland. The small-eyed ray prefers soft-bottomed habitats and stays within shallow to moderate depths.

Read a detailed ID guide.

Spotted ray (Latin name: Raja montagui).

The spotted ray has a shot snout and a diamond-shaped body with broad pectoral fins. They vary in colour from yellow to pale brown, with a number of small dark brown spots - giving this species its name. In contrast to the blonde ray, which has similar markings, the spotted ray's dark spots leave a distinct, blank margin around the edge of
the pectoral fins.

Read a detailed ID guide.

Common Skate (also known as the blue skate, Latin name: Dipturus batis)

The common skate is the largest skate found in European waters, with females growing to well over 2m in length. They have between 40 and 56 rows of teeth and may live up to 100 years. This skate species was historically found across much of the Northeast Atlantic and Mediterranean, but its range is now greatly reduced due to fishing pressures.

Read a detailed ID guide.


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