Thornback ray

Thornback ray

Scientific name: Raja clavata
The most commonly encountered ray around the British Isles, it's easy to see where the thornback ray got its name from - just check out the spines on its back!

Species information


Length: Up to 139cm
Weight: Up to 18kg
Average Lifespan: Can live for around 15 years

Conservation status

The thornback ray is listed as Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List

When to see

January to December


Closely related to sharks, rays also have a soft cartilage skeleton. Their grossly oversized pectoral fins give them their distinct diamond shape and act a bit like underwater wings. Thornback rays are found around all British coasts and feed mainly on crustaceans though they are not above taking any fish that swims a little too close! The thornback ray likes to bury itself in the sediment during the day and come out at dusk to hunt.

How to identify

With a distinctive kite shaped body, the thornback ray can also be recognised by its blotchy brown or grey back and collection of 'thorns' on its back and tail. Some other ray species also have thorns but the thornback ray has the biggest.

In our area

The Thornback Ray is the most commonly found ray throughout the Irish and British coast! Donegal coast would be the best place to see this species out in the ocean, especially around Lough Swilly! ICES, International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, considers the main populations of Thornback rays to be found off northwest Ireland and in the Irish and Celtic seas.

As common as this species may be in some areas the population of Thornback rays has completely disappeared due to overfishing - the main cases being Belfast Lough and Deepwater Quay in Sligo.


Found around all British coasts although less frequent along Eastern Scotland & England.

Did you know?

Although their jaws are small they are extremely powerful, allowing them to crush through the shells of crabs and other crustaceans with ease.