Guernsey fisherman captures unusual ray north of the island

March 8th, 2011 by Richard Lord

While trawling four miles north of Guernsey at 3 pm on 7 March 2011 Pierro Le Cheminant on the Guernsey trawler Amy Blue landed a very pale ray that may be an albino blonde ray, Raja brachyura.

Guernsey commercial fisherman, Pierro Le Cheminant, with his unusual ray catch (click image to expand - ©RLLord)

Having never seen such a pale ray before Mr. Le Cheminant decided to resuscitate the fish.  Had he returned it immediately to the sea it may not have survived as undulate ray, Raja undulata, that had to be returned to the sea because of fishery management regulations were moribund on return.  The pale ray was kept alive in a large container, which was fed with a continuous supply of fresh seawater from the deck hose.

The pale coloured ray weighed 3.75 kilograms on the trawler’s digital scale although a portion of the tail was resting on the deck.  The fish had a total length of 80 cm and a disc width of 57 cm.

The ray had a completely white ventral surface and twenty spines along the median line of the dorsal surface of the tail.

The pale ray had a total length of 80 cm and a disc width of 57 cm - any dark colouration is black paint showing through from the trawler's deck (click image to expand - ©RLLord)

Because of its unusual colouration and the lack of spines it does not key out to any ray species in the “Fishes of the North-eastern Atlantic and the Mediterranean” book published by UNESCO.

Mr. Le Cheminant contacted Pete Williams who has been fishing in Guernsey waters for 50 years.  He hadn’t seen such a fish as this before, and nor had Dougal Lane, President of the Guernsey Fisherman’s Association.

It could be an albino ray. Sometimes the eyes appeared red. (click image to expand - ©RLLord)

Mr. Le Cheminant decided to return to St. Peter Port to give the fish to Dave Miller at Guernsey Aquarium.

The ray has few spines around the eyes (click image to expand - ©RLLord)

The snout is similar to that of a blonde ray, Raja brachyura. (click image to expand - ©RLLord).

Retired dental surgeon Les Curtis, who was attending the EMBO course in advanced optical microscopy in Plymouth, took a tissue sample of the ray to Dr. Andrew Griffiths of The Marine Biological Association.

Dr. Griffiths sequenced the albino ray for two regions of mitochrondrial DNA.  The CO1 sequence (the DNA barcode) was 99.8% identical to a voucher specimen of blonde ray, Raja brachyura.  He wrote “so, it’s definitely a blonde ray.”

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