The first few trawls brought up mostly sea lettuce and invertebrates with few fish. However, as the day continued on, the class began to pull in more fish that they were able to identify. Their catches included a summer flounder, bay anchovy, mantis shrimp, stargazer, sea robin, black sea bass, burrfish, shrimp, squid, seahorse, and a clearnose skate.
The students were excited about their finds, but one that stuck out the most was the clearnose skate.
“I have never seen skates before. I’ve only seen stingrays, but with skates I don’t have to worry about getting barbed,” said Haley Wise, a student from East Stroudsburg University.
Clearnose skates get their name because of their nose, or rostral ridge, that looks almost clear. They mostly eat shrimp, mollusks, crustaceans and small fish, and they are usually about 18 inches wide and 33 inches long.
They are found in the Atlantic Ocean, ranging from Massachusetts to Florida, and they are also found in the Gulf of Mexico. These skates are often caught by recreational fishers because they are found close to the shore.
Skates are in a group of fish called elasmobranchs. This group contains fish with cartilaginous skeletons, or bones, and five or more gill slits on each side of the head. These include sharks, sawfishes, rays, and skates.
While a skate may look like a ray, skates have a larger dorsal fin compared to rays which sometimes do not have a dorsal fin. Rays have one or two stinging spines, whereas skates do not have spines at all. A ray will use its spine to protect itself from predators, but a skate will use thorny projections on its back and tail.
Skates are oviparous, or egg laying, and rays are viviparous, or live bearing. In fact, you may have seen skate egg casings on the beach before. They are black and rectangular, and the eggs are located in the center. Some people refer to them as “mermaid’s purses.”
Students took turns looking at the skate, and some even held it for photos.
Edwin Sanchez, a student from Millersville University, said he is glad he got to handle some animals in the wild.
“I took this class to learn how to handle wildlife better, so I’m impressed with what I’m learning,” Edwin said.
He learned how to handle mantis shrimp, blue crabs, and skates all on the the boat trip that morning.
“I’m really glad for this experience,” he said.
Haley said it was interesting to see organisms in their habitat, and the morning trawling trip made her more excited for the class.
“It’s a lot of work, but it’s also a lot of fun,” Haley said.