Photo Credit: Cheryl Miller
What is this? And is this a face looking back at you? These are baby Winter Skates, found in the Mermaids Purse exhibit at Connecticut's Mystic Aquarium. Skates are flat, cartilaginous fish, that very in size and shape, from rounded to diamond-shaped. They are found in most parts of the world, from tropical to near-Arctic waters and from the shallows to depths of more than 8,900 feet (2,700 meters). The two dots that look like eyes in the picture above are spiracles that bring water into the gills for respiration. You can then see the mouth, gills, abdominal cavity and pelvic fins, which they use to maneuver in the water.
Skates have slow growth rates and therefore reproduction is low, since they take time to sexually mature. As a result they are vulnerable to overfishing, and hence are suffering reduced population levels in many parts of the world. In 2010, Greenpeace International added the Barndoor Skate, Bottlenose Skate, Spotback Skate, and Maltese Skate to its seafood red list (a list of fish that are commonly sold in supermarkets around the world which have a very high risk of being sourced from unsustainable fisheries).
CLICK HERE to see a fascinating video on the aquarium's website about the actual Mermaid's Purses - a kind of external womb where they grow and from which they hatch. Watch how Keepers carefully create little windows in the purses so guests can witness the development of these animals before they are ready to come into the world!