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Critically endangered skate washes ashore on Sutherland beach

By Mike Merritt

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Finlay Pringle with the remains of the large skate.
Finlay Pringle with the remains of the large skate.

SCOTLAND'S leading young environmentalist has made a shocking and rare find on a Sutherland beach.

Teen Finlay Pringle – who has been hailed by TV wildlife presenter Chris Packham and campaigner Greta Thunberg – discovered a 150lb flapper skate recently.

The 5ft long and 5ft wide giant female fish was discovered at Stoer Beach during a beach clean for the Aberdeen Science Centre and High Life Highland.

“It was still pretty fresh and absolutely huge, but shows that we need to care for all the creatures in our seas no matter how large or small,” said Finlay (13).

The skate is one of the largest and rarest creatures in Scottish waters.

The flapper skate can grow more than 6ft 6in long and weigh around 200lbs and is classed as critically endangered – making it more at risk of extinction than the giant panda.

Last year NatureScot welcomed the announcement by Scottish Ministers that an urgent Marine Protected Area has been designated for the flapper skate egg-laying habitat in the Inner Sound between Skye, Raasay, South Rona and the Applecross peninsula. The reserve will boost efforts to conserve the threatened species.

In 2009, it was found that the fish previously known as “common skate” is actually two distinct species – flapper skate (Dipturus intermedius) and blue skate (Dipturus flossada).

Flapper skates occur in the northern North Sea and off Scotland’s north-west coast. The smaller blue skate is the main species found in the Celtic Sea and around Rockall. The two species also overlap across a wide area.

The flapper skate belongs to the elasmobranch or shark family. Instead of bones, it has a skeleton formed of cartilage.

Anglers throughout Scotland have been previously encouraged by NatureScot and the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS) to send any photographs of “common skate” to Skatespotter, an online catalogue.

The project aims to help conserve the diamond-shaped species through identifying individual fish by the distinctive spot patterns on their backs and studying their movements.

The large skate washed ashore at Stoer.
The large skate washed ashore at Stoer.

The skate have been listed as critically endangered since 2006 as a result of overfishing. In 2009 it became illegal to land skate in most of Europe, which means any caught as bycatch should be released unharmed.All angling for this species in Scotland is on a “catch and release” basis. Recapturing previously identified skate suggests there is no harm to the fish when released. But common skate are still at risk from unintentional capture by trawls and dredges due to their large size, and the size of their eggs and young. The skates are slow to grow and mature, and so population numbers will be slow to recover.

Last year Finlay, from Ullapool in Wester Ross, was recognised for his work on marine conservation.

Young people from more than 70 countries across five continents registered to join 2020 Young Activists Summit for live discussion on shaping the post-Covid-19 planet.

It is held annually and brings together a line-up of young activists who are awarded a prize for their outstanding dedication and achievements.

Finlay, a global shark ambassador for the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, was previously selected as one of 10 UK ‘Change Makers’ by the Children’s Media Conference in Sheffield.

The youngster has also won numerous awards. He was made ‘Young Marine Conservationist of the Year’ by the Marsh Christian Trust – in conjunction with the Wildlife Trust – in 2018 and last year won the Daily Mirror ‘Young Animal Hero’ of 2019.

Finlay hit the headlines when he was “sacked” by a group as an ambassador for sharks and subject to scout leaders trolling him after he simply posted online his opposition to a controversial sea adventure project by TV survival expert Bear Grylls.

But he was hailed as a hero by BBC Springwatch presenter Mr Packham for standing up to the intimidation.

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