Image Source: https://www.bbc.com/
An egg from a critically endangered flapper skate has been successfully incubated in an aquarium in Argyll.
Scientists believe it’s the first time such an egg has been cared for from laying to hatching.
The fish was placed on the critically endangered list in 2006 after numbers plummeted because of overfishing.
Researchers say they have now gained a better understanding of skate gestation which helps with their future protection.
It took about 18 months for the egg to hatch at the Scottish Association for Marine Science (Sams) aquarium in Oban.
The 27cm hatchling was quickly released into the sea at the Sound of Jura Marine Protected Area (MPA) in Loch Sunart.
Jane Dodd, NatureScot Marine Operations Officer, said: “We still know very little about the lives of flapper skate, for example how often they breed, and where and when they lay eggs. The total gestation of the egg was 535 days so it is similar to that of Orca and Sperm whales.
“Knowing the length of time that eggs take to hatch is a really useful piece of information for understanding the life history of flapper skate which will in turn improve how we are able to protect them.”
An adult female flapper skate can grow to more than 2.3 metres in length and live for up to 50 years.
In 2009 it became illegal for fishermen to land them meaning any which are caught have to be released unharmed.
In the Sound of Jura MPA, which was designated to protect a breeding area for common skate, fishing is restricted too so they can’t be accidentally caught or disturbed.
Anglers can still catch and tag them on fishing lines which helps increase understanding about the species and their movements.
The egg was collected after being released by a female when it was lifted onto the deck of an angling boat last year.
Steven Benjamins from Sams said: “We have been photographing the egg every week on a light box to observe the development of the embryo.
“A few months ago we started to wonder if the embryo was large enough to hatch so we set up a video camera recording 24 hours a day to try and capture the moment. We were able to record some lovely footage of the moment the baby skate swam out of the egg case.”
Flapper skate are considered extinct throughout much of their traditional range with the west coast of Scotland one of the last remaining strongholds for the species.