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The tale of the lost rays of the North Sea

Leucoraja fullonica, picture by Pedro Miguel Niny

There is a lot of talk going on about the fact, if there are ‘many rays’ in the North Sea. Many call all species just ‘rays’. A ray is a ray, is a ray… This makes population assessments difficult.
Several species of rays and skates were common in Dutch territorial waters at the beginning of the century and there was a directed fisheries on these species. During the 1930’s a decline in landings was seen and shortly after the Second World War there were few rays left on the Dutch continental shelf. 

Tetronarce nobiliana, picture by NOAA

The estuaries in Zealand were more important for thornback and stingrays than those in South Holland or the Wadden Sea, except following the First World War when record landings were registered from the Wadden Sea.
Most abundant species are now the starry ray (Raja montagui) and the common stingray (Dasyatis pastinica). Thornback rays are probably making a very slow recovery.

Torpedo marmorata, picture by Alexandra Alves

But only few know, that our North Sea was the home of more than the eight species so often portrayed. Three species have disappeared from our waters almost completely and sightings are extremely rare. These are Leucoraja fullonica (shagreen ray, Red List status ‘Vulnerable’), Tetronarce nobiliana (electric ray, IUCN status: Data Deficient) and Torpedo marmorata  (marbled electric ray, IUCN status: Data Deficient).  The Dutch North Sea was part of the native range of these species. It is not known when and why exactly they disappeared, the shagreen ray was indeed overfished. The fact that they other two species are ‘Data deficient’ means there are just not enough data to estbalish population size.

Read more about these species:

Leucoraja fullonica

Tetronarce nobiliana

Torpedo marmorata

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