Online resource tracks skate movements

Skipper Ronnie Campbell photographing skate.

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An online resource for tracking the movements of some of the largest and rarest creatures in British waters has been expanded.

The Skatespotter website, which includes details of 1,500 critically endangered common or flapper skate, has been updated to include historic records that give an improved insight into the lives of individual fish.

The move was announced as Scotland’s Year of Coasts and Waters 2020 gets under way.

Anglers are encouraged to submit any photographs of common skate they catch and release to the database, allowing researchers working to conserve the species to identify individual fish by the distinctive spot patterns on their backs and study their movements.

For the first time, historic information from the Scottish Shark Tagging Programme (SSTP) dating back to 1975 has been added, as well as additional tagging data and photographs from Orkney, Shetland, the Outer Hebrides and Portpatrick.

The data reveals interesting details about the skate living in the Loch Sunart to the Sound of Jura Marine Protected Area (MPA) – designated to help protect the species.

Female skate are much more likely to be recaptured, because they tend to remain in the same area. Only five males have been captured more than 10 times, compared to 17 females.

Known as Di000289, the most tracked male skate is therefore unusual, having been captured 19 times between 2016 and 2019 in the Firth of Lorn.

Interestingly, the data shows that there is very little movement of skate between the Firth of Lorn and the Sound of Jura. Only two males and three females have moved between the two sites out of 1,500 individuals, a minimum distance of more than 30km as the skate swims.

Skatespotter, which launched in 2018, is a joint project between Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS).