Flapper Skate Feature

The Flapper skate, Dipturus intermedia, the ‘manta ray of the Atlantic’!
A photo of a Flapper Skate, or Common Skate, taken by angler Ronald Surgenor

Reaching up to 3m in length, it is the largest species of skate in the world but, as a critically endangered creature, it has received very little recognition or protection in terms of habitat conservation and fishing regulations.

Lucky for us, Northern Ireland is one of the few remaining places in the world that this species can still be found. And although I have read quite a lot about the Flapper skate, it surprised me how many people didn’t even know it existed - let alone how endangered it is!

In November 2019, the first meeting of the newly formed Flapper Skate Working Group took place. Bringing together government, eNGOs, sport-fishers and academics, the group developed a plan on the best way to move forward with conservation efforts to safeguard the future of the Flapper Skate in our local waters.

The first hurdle for the conservation of Flapper Skates is the severe lack of public awareness about this species. Generally, animals like otters and seals get a more attention from the public because they are cuter. Although I think there’s something quite adorable about the giant flat shape and peaceful nature of the Flapper skate. Through Sea Deep outreach events we have been raising the profile of the skate, bringing it the attention it deserves! This picture shows an event we hosted in the Ulster Museum where we were teaching kids (& adults!) how to origami our own Flapper Skate.

Origami

Historically there has been some confusion about their name. For years, the Flapper Skate was called the ‘Common Skate’. But now we know that we have been misidentifying 2 different species, the Blue Skate and the Flapper Skate, as a singular ‘Common Skate’ because they look very similar. This has given the Flapper Skate a false status of security and does not reflect the level of decline it is facing, with many records haven been falsely recorded as Flapper skate.

Poster

There is very little data on the life history for this species, making it difficult to develop sound conservation and management plans. Knowledge gaps for this species include how long the Flapper skate lives for, how many eggs it lays, changes in habitat and diet over their lifespan, and whether or not they stay in the same areas throughout their lifetime or move around to different habitats, all of which are essential data that are required to better support conservation efforts. It is clear that further research and tagging programmes need to focus on the Flapper skate in order to fill these knowledge gaps.

To achieve effective conservation for the Flapper skate, science-based policy and effective outreach platforms are essential, which is why it is important to bring eNGO’s, academics, government and sports fishers together to effectively manage and protect the Flapper Skate here in Northern Ireland. Sea Deep conservation recommendations were based on the data generated by the licensed volunteer anglers that tag and release Flapper Skate around our coast.

A final output from the working group was a petition to change the name of the Flapper Skate. My vote is for the Flappy McFlap Skate ;)