Friday, October 21, 2016

Bike Path Wildlife

     On my bike ride home from work, I opt for a longer and more scenic ride home along the path that takes you along Caesar's Bay and the Belt Parkway, under the Verrazano Bridge, and up into Bay Ridge. It is 5 miles longer than my usual ride up Ocean Parkway, but the views make up for the extra milage.
     Often I am hoping to spy a spouting whale, or a different gull from the standard species found along the way. Often I am dodging the lines of casting anglers as the fish are plentiful along the span of the path. I saw two anglers pull up a flopping catch as I approached them and I had to stop, because it wasn't any ordinary fish, it was cartilaginous, flat, and one we often see evidence of on the beach...
The bottom of the animal -- I know it's a female as it lacks "claspers," specialized structures on the pelvic fins that help males mate and internally fertilize the female. Sharks and their kin don't spawn, they are more sophisticated than that, even though their kind have been on this planet for 400 million years.
This fish is a skate, I think it is a little skate, which are more common inshore. Skates like sharks do not have bones, but skeletons of cartilage. They are not sting rays-- but related. Skates have fleshy fins on their tail, not a stinger. But they are related to sharks, and like sharks have some crazy rough skin that looks rather toothy, because they are dermal denticles. I touched it and got the chance to feel how rough she was.
I asked the anglers if they were planning to eat it. And they looked at me like I asked the craziest question. They asked me if I ever ate one, and I told them I did, and that I stopped consuming skate because they are not really good to eat, sustainably speaking. They told me that when they catch these guys they always toss them back as they are of no use to them.
To learn more about sustainable seafood, check out the seafood watch guides from Monterey Bay Aquarium.
And in case you were wondering, this is the evidence of skates that we find on the beach. Playfully referred to as "mermaid's purses," these are egg cases that once contained and protected most usually a single embryo. The washed up cases are almost always empty, the baby skate once developed makes its way out and into the ocean world.
Egg cases can be identified by species, based on characteristics, allowing researchers to know species present locally and have some idea of their population densities.