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October 7, 2013

An increasingly threatened ray species has been hatched at Newquay’s Blue Reef Aquarium.

The small-eyed ray gets its name from its conspicuously small eyes which are surrounded by tiny thorn-like structures.

The species is classified as ‘Near Threatened’ in the wild which means it may be considered threatened with extinction in the near future.

Blue Reef Aquarium Curator, Steve Matchett, said: “The baby ray is doing well and we have another egg-case which is due to hatch out at any moment.

“The eggs came from another aquarium and are currently in our nursery display area. As they mature, the rays will be transferred in to one of our open-top tanks,” he added.

Fully grown specimens reach close to a metre in length and the fish’s upper body is usually sandy coloured with regular patterns of spots, lines and blotches.

There is a row of 50 thorns which run along the fish’s midline and it needs to be handled with care.

In UK waters the rays tend to breed during the summer months, producing up to 60 eggs a year – of which only a small percentage reach adulthood..

The eggs, which are often washed up empty on beaches and known as mermaids’ purses, have two long horns and measure around 10cms long.

The embryos take around seven months to hatch and newly-hatched babies are approximately 12-14 centimetres in length.

The species is not recorded as being present in the North Sea or the Mediterranean and is only found in any numbers at specific locations around the south west of England, Ireland and along the French, Spanish and Portuguese coast.

The status of the small-eyed ray in UK waters is uncertain. It is potentially vulnerable to over-exploitation due to its relatively small geographic distribution and its localised abundance in specific areas.

Rays belong to the same family as sharks and are effectively ‘flattened-out’ versions of their close cousins. UK waters are home to at least 15 different species including the electric ray and the common skate, which can reach lengths of up to three metres.

Recent research has revealed that embryonic sharks and rays developing inside their egg-cases can sense external electric currents and remain motionless when a would-be predator approaches.