Small-eyed ray hatches out at aquarium

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An increasingly threatened species of ray has been born at Newquay's Blue Reef Aquarium.

The Small-eyed ray (Raja microocellata) is so-called due to its conspicuously small eyes which are surrounded by tiny thorn-like structures.

These rays grow to almost one metre/40" in length. A row of around 50 thorns runs along the fishes' midline and sometimes also on the lower edges of the tail. They need to be handled very carefully.

Blue Reef Aquarium Curator, Steve Matchett, said: "The baby ray is doing well and we have another egg-case which is due to hatch out at any moment.

"The eggs came from another aquarium and are currently in our nursery display area. As they mature, the rays will be transferred into one of our open-top tanks.

The species is only found in any numbers at specific locations around the south west of England, Ireland and along the French, Spanish and Portuguese coast.

In UK waters the rays tend to breed during the summer, producing up to 60 eggs a year. The embryos take around seven months to hatch, with newly-hatched babies measuring around 12-14cm/5-5.5" in length. The eggs cases, known as mermaids' purses, have two long 'horns' and are around 10cm/4" long. They're often washed up empty on beaches.

The relatively small distribution and localised abundance of the Small-eyed ray make it vulnerable to overfishing. The species is classified as 'Near Threatened' in the wild, which means it may be considered threatened with extinction in the near future.

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