Southern Fiddler Ray
Fiddler rays are within the Rhinobatidae family (guitarfishes and shovelnose rays) and are separated into two species, the eastern fiddler ray and the southern fiddler ray. They possess characteristics of both sharks and skates. Their rounded body is formed by the fusion of the head and the pectoral fins, similarly to shovelnose rays the snout is translucent, followed by a long tail which exhibits two dorsal fins. Their tail lacks the venomous spines common to other stingrays (despite their common name), instead they have a row of thorn-like denticles along their back. Eastern and southern fiddler rays are differentiated by range, colouration and pattern of ornate markings over their back. The southern fiddler rays body is a dark yellow to brown, and is distinguished by three short longitudinal stripes immediately behind the eyes. They are opportunistic bottom feeders consuming a variety of shelled invertebrates, fish, crabs and worms which are crushed by numerous short blunt teeth. The fiddler ray grows to a maximum length of 1.4 metres.
Female southern fiddler rays grow to a greater length than males, 1.46 metres and 0.89 metres respectively and mature at a larger size than males (89 centimetres compared to 68 centimetres). The reproductive cycle of southern fiddler-rays in south-western Australian waters has been found to enter into a delayed development phase, which enables young to be born in optimal conditions, such as when their food source is plentiful and ocean temperatures are high and conducive to rapid growth. Gestation in the southern fiddler ray is 4 to 5 months and females give birth to between 4 and 6 young per breeding cycle.
During the day the southern fiddler ray lies buried in the soft substrate in very shallow coastal waters in estuaries and seagrass beds in southern Australia from Lancelin, WA to Victoria. Bycatch records from trawlers indicate that they can also be found offshore to depths of 50 metres. The eastern fiddler ray ranges from Victoria north to southern Queensland on the east coast. Fiddler rays are endemic to Australian southern waters.
Other common names include: banjo shark, fiddler ray, green skate, magpie fiddler ray, parrit, southern fiddler.
Occurrence at the Busselton Jetty:
Southern fiddler rays are observed on a regular basis from the jetty and the underwater observatory in the summer months when the visibility is optimal. Their ornate markings camouflage perfectly with the ripples in the sand and the reflections the sun produces as it passes through the water as they lay motionless and partially covered on the sea floor.
Image by: J. Loyacano