Park visitor Chloe France caught a glimpse of this sizeable Bat Ray (Myliobatis californica) sliding just below the surface off the east side of the park. This one looked to have a wingspan of more than three feet, maybe as much as four feet, above average for the species.
Bat rays have flat and very hard teeth in tight rows, perfect for crushing and grinding shells of clams, mussels, crabs, and other low-lying proteins. They can use their wings to stir up the sandy bottom and create pits to expose prey. At low tide in the North Basin, we can often see numerous round, shallow depressions; those are probably Bat Ray work.
Fishers in the park sometimes catch Bat Rays even when they don’t want to. The fish put up terrific fights. Two years ago I photographed such a man/fish battle, “Almost Moby,” December 20 2018. Like other local fishers I’ve talked to, this one let the fish go; he didn’t consider it edible. That’s a modern Anglo hangup. The indigenous people of the area fished them extensively for food, and they’re a commercial fishing crop in Mexico today.
Bat Rays were heavily targeted for extirpation around commercial oyster growing operations in the belief that the fish ate oysters. However, studies showed that the rays rarely ate oysters. The main oyster predators were crabs, a favorite food for the rays.
Bat Rays and Skate fish are similar in many respects; see the comparison table here. However, Skate fish are in trouble from overfishing and Greenpeace International has put the most common skate species on its seafood red list. Bat Rays on the U.S. Pacific coast are abundant and not threatened at this time.