The shovelnose guitarfish is a relatively small-bodied ray that has the typical wing-like pectoral fins of all rays but a body that otherwise resembles a shark’s. Like most rays, this species lives on the seafloor, typically settled on soft sandy or muddy bottoms, often near rocky reefs. Shovelnose guitarfish have the ability to pump water over their gills, so they are able to remain perfectly motionless. The guitarfishes are a group of skates (as opposed to stingrays). They do not have barbs or “stingers” like some other rays, and they are totally harmless to people.
As shovelnose guitarfish are associated with the seafloor, the majority of the prey also lives on the bottom. They eat a variety of benthic fishes and invertebrates, especially decapods like shrimps and crabs. Large, coastal sharks and perhaps California sea lions are the only known predators of shovelnose guitarfish.
Like all sharks and rays, this species reproduces via internal fertilization. Each individual embryo receives nutrition from a yolk sac, and females give birth to live, well-developed young. After birth, juveniles receive no further parental care and are ready to begin living a predatory lifestyle. The shovelnose guitarfish has a shark-like body, and early scientists thought it was a shark. Later, it was thought to be intermediate between sharks and rays. Recent studies, however, have confirmed that the guitarfishes are rays and are most closely related to the diverse group of skates.
Shovelnose guitarfish are directly targeted in small fisheries throughout much of their range. They are also accidentally captured in net fisheries targeting other species. In some areas (particularly in northern Mexico), their numbers have been depleted significantly, and scientists now believe that the species is near threatened with extinction. Continued monitoring of shovelnose guitarfish populations is important to ensure that any negative trends do not become too serious.
Oceana joined forces with Sailors for the Sea, an ocean conservation organization dedicated to educating and engaging the world’s boating community. Sailors for the Sea developed the KELP (Kids Environmental Lesson Plans) program to create the next generation of ocean stewards. Click here or below to download hands-on marine science activities for kids.