It looks like a cross between a guitar and a shark but the guitarfish is actually a part of the Rhinobatidae family which also includes skates and rays. There are 46 species in this family, 35 of them being guitarfish and the others are different rays such as the shovel nosed ray. They are commonly known as mud skates, shark rays or guitar sharks.
The guitarfish can range in size from 50cm up to 270cm and sometimes weighs 135kg, the smallest ever recorded was 34cm but it was thought to be a juvenile. The species is identified by the shape of the body disc which is usually wider than it is long. Its mouth is a blunt snout which contains 100 rows of teeth and its body tapers into a broad, shark like tail with two dorsal fins of the same size on the top. If you look closely you can see large thorn-like denticles around the eyes and along the back and tail. They are usually brown or greyish/green in colour with a pale ventrum.
Guitarfish can be found all around the world but they are very difficult to spot, leading experts to believe that they are on the vulnerable list as they aren’t found very often. They tend to bury themselves when they aren’t hunting and their sandy colour can lead you to believe you’re just seeing sand! They mostly live in inshore water and estuaries on sandy or muddy bottoms to maximum depth of about 14 metres but some species have been recorded at depths of around 90 metres.
The main diet of the Guitarfish is crustaceans and mollusc. They trap prey on the sea floor with their head and pectoral fins then pull the food into their mouth using sharp, short thrust of the head.
Very little is known about the mating habits or reproduction of the Guitarfish but like other species of rays, they are thought to be late in sexual maturity and slow in reproduction. The females give birth to between 4-9 pups which are hatched within the uterus and feed on the embriotic yolk then get their nutrients from the mother until they’re ready for the real world. They are born measuring about 45cm long.
The species is under threat due to the fins fetching a high price on the Asian market and the meat is sold for human consumption. The denticles are also used to make bracelets. Please do not buy any of these products while visiting Asia as it supports the killing of these vulnerable animals and we want them around for our children to enjoy as well.
If you’re lucky enough to get a picture or video of one of these glorious animals, please send it to us so we can enjoy it too! If you’ve never seen one then keep your eyes out on your next dive and check our dive site list to see if they might be in the area you’re visiting.
Story by Kelly Luckman