The great Shetland eggcase hunt

Local Patch Reporter Sally Huband has been on a fascinating search for eggcases. 

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I had a very enjoyable morning recently identifying eggcases collected by eagle eyed beach cleaning volunteers during April’s Da Voar Redd Up. In total 95 eggcases were collected and the verified records have now been uploaded on to the Shark Trust’s Great Eggcase Hunt map.

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69 of the eggcases are small-spotted catshark and there are also 15 thornback ray. These are the only two species that I’ve found so far so I was excited to see that others had found eggcases belonging to starry skate (5), common skate (3), spotted ray (2) and cuckoo ray (1).

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Starry skate eggcase showing the rough ‘washboard’ surface. 

Eggcases of these four species are now on high up on my beachcombing treasure wishlist. The common skate because they are MASSIVE, the capsule alone is 15-20cm long. The starry skate because they are exquisitely small and delicate but with a rough ‘washboard’ surface. The sinuous cuckoo ray with its very long horns and the spotted ray because it has the archetypal eggcase shape, the perfect mermaid’s purse.

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Small-spotted catshark with tightly coiled tendrils.

Interestingly, two of the smallspotted catshark eggcases were anchored to a piece of rope by great lengths of tightly coiled tendrils. Despite being adrift on a piece or rubbish these two eggcases looked as if they had hatched. Cat Gordon of the Shark Trust explained that the eggcases of this species would normally be tethered to seafans, seaweed or coral but it does also happen that they are laid on abandoned fishing gear.

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Top left is a large but shrivelled common skate eggcase. 

Common skate eggcases are astonishingly large but then the females of this species can grow up to 285cm in length and can live for 50-100 years. From around eleven years they lay up to 40 eggcases only every other year. Very sadly the ‘common’ element of their name is no longer apt because their large size makes them susceptible to being caught in fishing gear, presumably before they have had a chance to reproduce. They are now extinct in all but a few places around the UK but are still found off Shetland as the three unmistakably large and raggedy eggcases confirm.

I feel chastened that I knew so little about this striking creature and its close relatives. Eggcases have always been beautiful and intriguing beachcombing findings but now they are fuelling my growing interest in marine life and connecting me to an environment that I’m learning to see beyond the surface of.

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3 small-spotted catshark, 1 starry skate with 3 thornback ray below. 

Thank you to…

  • Cat Gordon, Conservation Officer, Shark Trust
  • Sita Goudie, Environmental Improvement Officer, Shetland Amenity Trust 
  • Paul Harvey, Biological Records Centre Manager, Shetland Amenity Trust
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Read more exciting nature blogs by BBC Wildlife local patch reporters

BBC Wildlife wanted to find a new way to share some of our readers’ natural-history diaries with other wildlife enthusiasts, and Local Patch Reporters was born. 

Our 20 Local Patch Reporters for 2014 are aged from 10 to 64 and live from Dorset in the south to Shetland in the north.

Throughout this year they will be exploring and reporting on nature in their neighbourhood via online blogs.

Sally Huband is a local patch reporter from Shetland 

Local nature patch:  Shetland

I have a PhD on the butterflies of Carpathian hay meadows and often go beachcombing for washed up treasures from the natural world. 

Wildlife aims for 2014: Improve my bird identification skills, learn to sea kayak to get close to marine wildlife and plan trips to see orcas and the bright orange bumblebee (endemic to Shetland).