Species name: spiny butterfly ray
Nominated by: Project AWARE
IUCN Red List classification: Vulnerable; Europe & Mediterranean – Critically Endangered
What is so special about your species?
Butterfly, diamond shaped, what’s not to love about this ray species? For scuba divers, getting up close and personal with rays in their natural habitat makes for an unforgettable experience. Some of the most beloved ray species are the majestic manta ray or graceful eagle ray but there are so many other rays who deserve love and attention. The spiny butterfly ray gets its name from its wide, wing-like pectoral fins and its short, sharp tail that has one or more serrated spines used to stun preys such as crustaceans, molluscs, plankton and small fishes. This very large, diamond shaped ray has a flat body and coloration which enables the little known and rarely seen creature to effectively camouflage itself in the sandy and muddy sea floor. If buried in the sand, the spiny butterfly ray will often remain motionless while divers pass. They are sometimes spotted around the popular dive destination, the Canary Islands. Rumour has it that there is one that has taken up residence in the harbour on El Hiero.
What are the threats to this species in the wild?
Coastal development, pollution and disturbances caused by humans or their activities, tourism in particular, are a threat to the spiny butterfly ray shallow coastal habitat. They produce few young (1-8 depending on geographic location), making them especially vulnerable to fishing pressure and overexploitation. Noted for the quality of its wing meat and sometimes landed for human consumption, they are particularly susceptible to a range of fishing gear and commonly taken in inshore fisheries. Along the coast of West Africa, large mesh bottom gillnets are used to target the spiny butterfly ray in huge numbers. In the Mediterranean, this ray was moderately abundant but they are now very rare or absent from local catch records. In this region, the suspected population decline over the past 20 years exceeds 80%. In West Africa, abundance has declined severely and the median size has been dramatically reduced as most of the adults have been removed by fishing activities.
What can people do to help your species?
One of the best ways to help the spiny butterfly ray, and other sharks and rays of the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea, is to support science-based shark conservation measures. NGOs like Project AWARE and its conservation partners, including Shark Advocates International, The Shark Trust and Ecology Action Center are working hard to gain increased protections for some of these lesser known species. Together, we have formed the Shark League. We advocate for ground-breaking safeguards for sharks and rays at specific Regional Fisheries Management Organisations, including GFCM – the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean. Our coalition is hopeful for effective collaboration in implementing science-based shark conservation measures to safeguard the Mediterranean’s exceptionally vulnerable sharks and rays, including the spiny butterfly ray.
Follow #SharkLeague on Twitter over the coming months to learn more and get involved. Thank you!