Surf's Up Magazine

Sea Skate: All you Need to Know

  • Date: February 21, 2024
  • Time to read: 9 min.

Sea skate are an impressive group of cartilaginous fish from the Rajidae family. They are known to encompass over 150 species in 17 genera.

Found abundantly amidst the world’s oceans, skate fish are often caught as a secondary product from trawlers and certain species have even become critically endangered.

When cooked properly, this fish impresses with its meat that can rival using scallops in both texture and taste!

In today’s world, a surprising number of Michelin star restaurants are now offering skate dishes on their menus. An exciting addition to the fine dining experience. Read on to learn more about the sea scate.

sea skate
Sea Skate on the Ocean Floor

Sea Skate: Quick Facts

  • With its spiny protective armor, skate fish are equipped with a formidable defense system. While stingrays rely on their barbed tails for protection, skates possess “thorn-like” body parts that enable them to ward off threats.
  • Sea skate possesses the largest liver in comparison to other animals. It measures at a quarter of its body mass! That’s 25 percent, compared to just 2 percent for humans. This impressive organ grants it power: enabling them to remain close to their home on the ocean floor.
  • Unlike stingrays that produce live young ones, these species lay eggs which are stored in a pouch often known as a ‘mermaid pouch’ – an astonishing sight indeed!

Classification and Scientific Name of the Sea Scate

Sea skate are a remarkable species of Chondrichthyes- the class that encompasses sharks, rays and chimeras. It’s believed that these incredible creatures began their evolution during the Jurassic Period (200 to 145 million years ago), despite leaving behind scarce fossils due to their lack of bones.

Rajiformes, a subdivision of fishes containing over 200 species across four families, is home to skate fish.

These include the smooth skates and softnose skates as well as pygmy skates. These remarkable aquatic creatures that have been swimming in our seas for centuries!

As of 2020, the Rajidae family houses an expansive 159 species across 16 distinct genera. For instance, the big skate’s scientific name is Raja binocular and serves as a prime example of one such member in this species-rich group.

As of late 2020, a whopping 159 species of skates have been identified in the Rajidae family. But who’s to say that this number won’t continue growing?

After all, these bottom-dwellers often inhabit depths up to 8,900 feet and may hold surprises yet undiscovered! In fact, six new species were discovered between 2011 and 2020. An exciting testament to what future research will bring about!

skate fish
Skate Fish Cruising the Sea Floor

Species of Skate Fish

Owing to their relatively restricted geographic regions, skate fish boast a wide range of distinct species. To illustrate this point, take the 8 exclusive skate fishes which inhabit only around New Zealand’s waters as an example! Notable examples among these include the following.

Deepsea skate

The amazing deepsea skate, Bathyraja abyssicola of the Arhynchobatidae family, dwells in extraordinarily deep depths from 362 to 2,906 meters beneath sea level.

They can be found all around northern Baja California and Coronado Island, Cortes Bank up north to the Bering Sea region as well as Japan’s west coast!

In 2015, the Deepsea Skate made a historic appearance north of Darwin Island in the Galapagos Marine Reserve.

This species is frequently observed deeper than 1,000 m and caught incidentally via deepwater trawls and traps. Its scientific name “abyssicola,” derived from Greek words meaning “bottomless” and “living at depths,” could not be more fitting for this creature of the abyss!

Big skate

Spanning from Baja California to Alaska, the giant skate is one of the largest species of sea skate in existence. A fully-grown individual can reach an impressive 8 feet in length and weigh up to 200 pounds!

With up to seven eggs in each egg case, this skate species is exceptionally unusual compared to the others. In addition, it’s one of the most demanded off California for food purposes and commercial use.

Arctic skate

The Arctic skate (Amblyraja hyperborea) is an aquatic species from the Rajidae family, typically found gliding near the seabed in depths ranging between 140 and 2,500 meters.

This elusive fish can be seen inhabiting multiple locations across our planet, including the frigid waters of Canada’s North Atlantic coastlines; northern Europe; along with a variety of regions around Antarctica and New Zealand.

The Arctic skate is an impressive, predatory fish that can grow up to one meter long. It has a gray-brown complexion with large dark spots and a white underside decorated with dark patterns. Not to mention its menacing thorns down the length of its back until near the tip of its tail!

These voracious predators feast upon any small creature they find at the bottom of the sea. This makes them dangerous visitors in their aquatic home.

As if this wasn’t enough, they are also oviparous; meaning that when reproducing they lay egg capsules which bear hard horns on each corner as protection against other creatures looking for food!

Common skate

The common skate (Dipturus batis), also known fondly as the blue skate, is an immense fish species. It can grow to a whopping 2.85 meters in length – that’s over 9 feet! Not so long ago, it was one of the most abundant skates throughout the northeast Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea. Unfortunately today though, this majestic creature appears to have vanished from much of its historical range; what a tragedy!

Due to the overexploitation of this skate species, its numbers in fisheries have been drastically reduced. In 2006, it was officially recognized as critically endangered by the IUCN Red List and is now under protection within the European Union.

large common sea scate
Large Common Sea Scate

Sea Scate Appearance

Skate fish are known for their extraordinary body structures, colors and sizes! Some skate species can reach a humongous 8 feet in length, with an extremely hefty weight of 200 pounds. However, the majority measure less than 3 feet and weigh around only 10 pounds or lower.

Skate fish come in an array of around 200 species, each with their own unique color and pattern. The most typical hue is a brownish tint that helps the fish camouflage along the ocean floor. However some skate varieties are known to have spots or other markings.

Skates generally have a more angular, diamond-like form compared to stingrays’ sleeker and elongated bodies with distinct wings on their sides.

Skate Fish Compared to Stingrays

Skates and rays may appear to be quite alike, yet are actually distinct from one another due to various distinguishing characteristics that place them into separate taxonomical families.

  • Rays and skates possess distinct differences in their teeth as well as where they dwell
  • Skates live in deeper water than rays
  • Skates typically possess either one or two dorsal appendages to provide balance and stability in the water, whereas rays may not have any such fin at all or feature minuscule trace versions.
  • Skates differentiate themselves from rays by laying their eggs in a mermaid pouch, while the latter species give birth to baby rays.
  • Rays possess a sharp barb at the end of their tails that serves as a defense mechanism against predators. In contrast, skates lack this barbed tail and instead rely on thorny skin for protection.
  • Skates tend to be smaller than rays, with the most extreme contrast coming from a comparison of their largest species. An enormous manta ray can extend up to 29 feet in wingspan and weigh an imposing 3,600 pounds. While its counterpart skate measures a mere 200 pounds!

Habitat of the Skate Fish

Skate fish are ubiquitous in the oceans of our planet. They can be spotted in a variety of environments, from shallow river deltas to far-reaching outer continental shelves that plunge down to 8,900 feet below sea level! Most skate species tend to reside deeper than rays, making them hard prey and difficult catches for amateur anglers.

Skates are a common sight all over the world- from tropical climates to frozen environments. They can be found in various locations near the equator, throughout Antarctica and Greenland in both Northern and Southern Hemispheres.

Skate fish have ingeniously adapted to their environment with the ability to breath while partially buried in sand near the ocean floor, thanks to spiracles that are positioned behind their eyes. These specialized openings enable them to take in oxygenated water instead of air.

Reproduction of the Sea Skate

Mermaid pouches are constructed from collagen proteins and offer skate eggs a protective shield on the ocean floor against potential dangers.

Typically, embryonic skates live in these pouches for 12 weeks before being released into their new environment. By the time they’re ready to leave this haven of defense, they have grown to roughly double its size (which is usually around 4-6 inches).

Comprehending skate fish lifespans is a daunting task, as these sea creatures inhabit deeper waters and are hard to observe. However, research suggests that common skates live for between 50-100 years. Other species may not enjoy the same longevity.

As an example, Winter skate is said to live an estimated 20 years! This remarkable lifespan means that these fish can take up to 10 or more years just to reach maturity. Subsequently, repopulation of the species becomes difficult since most skates lay many eggs (40 for common skates) but only few will result in full-grown fishes.

sea skate egg
Sea Skate Egg

Cooking and Eating

Skate fish, which are plentiful and often caught as an unintended consequence of trawling, have not been regularly included in home cooking menus like other species. Nevertheless, its appeal among cooks is increasing quickly.

Preparing skate fish can be a formidable task as, similar to other cartilaginous species like sharks, skates contain urea in their tissues. If not prepared accurately, this can result in the unpleasant taste of ammonia. However, this is usually an indication that it had been stored and managed improperly or for too long.

Skate has become a luxurious dining experience, seen on the menu of Michelin starred restaurants such as Le Bernardin in New York City. Additionally, different cultures have adopted skate fish as an exquisite dish with unique preparations. For instance, Mokpo city in South Korea is renowned for their signature fermented skate dishes which offer a distinct pungent aroma.

Conservation Status

Although skate fish are generally plentiful, trawling has caused a significant drop in their estimated biomass numbers for some species.

The common skate, now gravely threatened by extinction and safeguarded by the European Union, is also facing a steep decline in its population here in the United States. However, as per reports released back in 2017 on their status quo; despite this rapid decrease of numbers there are still estimated to be hundreds of millions left throughout America.


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