About a month ago I found this “Mermaid’s Purse” on the shore at the Loop Strand round by the Manor House. It freaked me out a bit actually. I had found little 1-2 inch ones before which were said to be the egg cases of the dogfish, a kinda mini shark. As an avid surfer most of my life, I have been happy in the knowledge that there are no dangerous sharks in our inshore waters. I’ve surfed among harmless basking sharks and blue sharks years ago but these species are now very rare indeed. So, I started to think about all the different effects of climate change – I wondered about the size of the shark who would have an egg case 6″ long and could have wondered into my shark free surf zone.
My daughter and marine scientist Dr Easkey Britton was put on the case, fearing her surf addicted father might never put his toe in the sea ever again. After thorough investigation, what a relief it was to discover that the large egg case belongs to the critically endangered White Skate (Bottlenosed Skate). Although this creature can grow up to 6ft long by 5ft wide and has 48 rows of teeth in it’s upper jaw alone, I am quite happy floating around on my surfboard awaiting the next set of waves knowing that I share these waters with such a magnificent creature.
They are a slow growing, late maturing, long lived species which give birth to few young after incubating the egg case for 15 months. They were historically targeted by fisheries but these have now collapsed as there are very few White Skate left in the sea. It’s interesting that I would love to see one of these creatures in the wild while it’s more torpedo shaped cousins would scare the shit out of me. Perhaps it’s the graceful slow motion movements of their large wings under water that I remember from documentaries on rays and skates compared with my early memory of the Great White Shark in the movie, “Jaws”!