WTF? (WHAT’S THAT FISH) (8): THE GUITARFISH
Another spectacular WTF? entry comes courtesy of Adam Rees and his recent night dive in Florida waters: the guitarfish, (Gr: rhinos – nose; batis – ray) . Until a few days ago this creature was unknown to me. It sounds so improbable, and conjures up (for me, anyway) some nightmare piscine-based modification of a Strat, an instrument whose looks should not be meddled with without consequent loss of liberty.
The guitarfish belongs to a family of rays, Rhinobatidae, of which there are many species worldwide. In many ways the fish looks like a crossover with a shark. They have a ‘ray face’, small wings, yet a sharklike appearance with fins and a sharklike swimming action (see video, below). If you think there is a primitive or prehistoric look to the guitarfish, you’d be right. According to the temporal range chart they date from the late Jurassic era (and looking at the chart brings those exotic names right back – Ordovician, Silurian, and so forth. Straight out of Tolkien. Or Hogwarts).
I have been trying to nail the exact model of Adam’s finny ray-Strat, not an easy task. I am putting my money on the Atlantic guitarfish Rhinobatos lentiginosus, which may (or may not) be the same as the spotted or freckled; and is similar to the more widely photographed shovelnose guitarfish. Not that I am very bothered: it’s the unusualness of Adam’s creature that really counts.
The strange thing is that although the guitarfish is a denizen of, for example, floridian, caribbean and mexican gulf waters, it is said to be unrecorded for the Bahamas. These bottom-feeding creatures inhabit shallower waters near coastlines and estuaries. They eat crabs, shellfish and worms – all in plentiful supply in Bahamas waters – so I can’t see a reason why they should not be found there. Perhaps they are seen but unreported. I have in mind the recent reports of SAWFISH and BATFISH. So kudos awaits the person who reports – with photo – the ‘first’ Bahamas guitarfish. Maybe I’ll write a song about it!
EIGHT QUICK GUITARFISH FACTS
- Usually caught by mistake by anglers, or as bycatch by fishing vessels
- Inedible (unless someone knows better…)
- Non-aggressive and harmless to humans despite having a mouthful of small teeth
- Swims like a shark – the tail has no spinal structure
- Has a cute face unlike a a shark
- Adults are about 30 inches long
- They may bury themselves in sand or mud to ambush prey
- They are viviparous, giving birth to live young, which are born fully developed
As a postscript, it’s worth mentioning that on the same night dive, Adam also came across the uncommon batfish, a seriously prickly-looking starfish, and a spotted eagle ray. Worth losing sleep for.
A similar kind of guitarfish, showing the very sharklike movements in the water
Credits: Adam Rees, with many thanks; Greg Hume; magpie pickings, in particular Florida Museum of Natural History / Taylor Sullivan and the truthful parts of various Wiki articles (Her Majesty the Queen does not, for example, keep one at Windsor Castle to play with in her bath)