Starry Skate - Raja stellulata

View all Starry Skate Images in the Pacific Marine Index

Starry Skates (Raja stellulata) are known as the spiniest of the Northern Pacific skates, as it is covered with prickly spines and abrasive dermal denticles. Its dorsal surface has rows of thorns along its mid-back, groups of orbital thorns, up to six large thorns on its shoulder girdle, and a cluster of thorns along the edge of the pectoral fins or “wings”.  The number of these thorns increases with the size, and therefore the age, of the individual skate. In contrast, the belly is smooth and whitish, but with dark margins. The nose is very short, and two eye spots are often visible above the pectoral wings. Its dorsal surface is brown to grey brown, providing effective camouflage on the seafloor, with these colors fading upon death.

Starry Skates are commonly referred to as the Rock Skate, as this species is known to live and hunt on rocky habitats most commonly along the California coast, however they are being increasingly spotted in the waters around British Columbia. Studies of their feeding habits confirm that the Pacific Starry Skate's primary food sources are species inhabiting rocky reefs. This skate is known to eat rockfish, poachers, cephalopods, and commonly feeds on shrimp and crabs. This species is one of only a few skates in the Eastern North Pacific that does not appear to inhabit sandy bottoms, which explains why its diet shows such striking differences with the other local Rajids. 

Starry Skates are most commonly caught along the California coast by trawlers and anglers, however this species is on the "least concern" list by the IUCN. These skates were once thought to only have a range as far north as Southern Oregon, however in recent years these skates have been caught off the coast of Southern British Columbia. It is unclear why these animals have migrated north, or how large the population accually is, simply due to the lack of data on this skate.

Photographing Starry Skates is a unique and challenging endevor, due to the fact that this species prefers rocky reefs to sandy bottoms. Since other skates are generally found on the sand, trying to get proper exposures and creating an appealling image can be quite difficult. These skates make it easier to create a striking images by not only resting on colourful backdrops, but their amazing colouration provides great contrast in an image.