Thursday, April 21, 2016

Mermaid's Purse

A few weeks ago, the HRAP staff was alerted that a mermaid’s purse had been found on the beach. A mermaid’s purse is an egg capsule produced by the Big Skate, (Raja binoculata). The capsule, which is oblong in shape, usually measures 9-12 in long and 4-7 in wide. It has horns protruding from the corners.
 
Egg Capsule (mermaid's purse)
Photo courtesy of Frances Holtman

This species is oviparis, which means that the egg capsules often contain more than one embryo. This particular egg capsule held three juvenile skates. Unfortunately, the capsule was damaged, and the skates fell to the sand when a visitor picked up the capsule. 

Visitors viewing the juvenile Big Skates
Photo courtesy of Frances Holtman






The Big Skate is the largest species of the skate family. They are found on the Pacific coast from Alaska to Baja California. They feed on worms, crustaceans, molluscs, and small fish.


While the capsule contained three juvenile Big Skates, their premature entry to the world due to the damaged egg capsule was detrimental. Some visitors picked up the skates to take pictures, despite the HRAP staff member’s pleas to leave them alone so that the situation and the skates health could be assessed. Before the skates could be placed in a protective container, one was washed away by a wave. The remaining juveniles were placed in a plastic container with ocean water until it was decided what to do with them.

Protecting the skates from further damage
Photo courtesy of Frances Holtman
The skates were eventually tucked back in the torn mermaid’s purse and placed in the ocean so that they were protected from the roaring waves.


While this encounter had somewhat of a tragic ending, there’s a lot that can be learned from it.
  • When wildlife is encountered, it’s important to view them without injuring them. Seek the help of a trained professional. If you’re visiting Haystack Rock, look for the staff and volunteers in the red coats or shirts.
  • Big Skates are an important. They’re commercially fished off the coast of California and are sold for food.
  • They are also part of an intricate ecosystem that helps provide the air we breath.