A critically endangered flapper skate has been successfully cared for and hatched in captivity in what is thought to be a world first for the species.
The skate egg, which has been looked after by staff from NatureScot and the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS), recently hatched at the SAMS aquarium just outside Oban after 18 months.
It is thought to be the first time a flapper skate egg has been cared for from laying to hatching, allowing scientists to accurately confirm the gestation of the species for the first time.
The hatchling, a male measuring just 27cm long, was immediately released into the sea from the shore on the Loch Sunart to the Sound of Jura Marine Protected Area.
Despite its name, the common or flapper skate has been listed as critically endangered since 2006 as a result of overfishing. Flapper skate are described as extinct throughout much of their range with the west coast of Scotland one of the last remaining strongholds for the species.
Jane Dodd, NatureScot Marine Operations Officer, said: “We have been observing and monitoring the egg for a year and a half so to see it hatch successfully and be released back into the ocean was a wonderful moment. It has been really exciting to witness the development of the embryo each week from just a large yolk, to an embryo with a small beating tail and finally to a baby skate completely filling the egg capsule. 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.”