VIDEO: Rare sighting of bowmouth ray in waters off K’gari (Fraser Island)

By Candice Marshall May 11, 2022
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It was just a five-minute encounter, but five minutes Johnny Gaskell will never forget. 

“Seeing a marine creature as rare and endangered as this in the wild, is for me, one of the most exciting moments of my career,” says Johnny Gaskell, a marine biologist and master reef guide.

Johnny was exploring the waters off K’gari (Fraser Island) earlier this year when he says he caught a glimpse of a dark shadow in the shallow waters. 

Luckily for the rest of us who weren’t there, Johnny quickly sent his drone up to capture a video of the ray before it disappeared into deeper water.

A bowmouth ray (Rhina ancylostoma) at K’gari (Fraser Island), Queensland. Video credit: Johnny Gaskell

The bowmouth ray (Rhina ancylostoma), also commonly referred to as a bowmouth guitarfish, shark ray or mud skate, is known to inhabit Australian waters from Exmouth Gulf, Western Australia, around the tropical north of the country and south to the central coast of New South Wales. It is also found widely through the Indo-Pacific region.

However, the species is critically endangered, in part due to finning in overseas waters where the practice is not illegal, as it is in Commonwealth waters. Gill netting is another potential threat.

A bowmouth ray (Rhina ancylostoma) for sale at a fish market in Taiwan. Image credit: Animal Stock/Alamy

Johnny explains the creature’s name comes from the shape of its mouth, which is bowed and “kind of like a Grain Wave chip!”

“It’s a weird example but it’s basically not straight or curved like a normal mouth. It helps them crunch their prey, which is usually crabs and shellfish.

“They are quite prehistoric looking, with small spines that resemble mini stegosaurus spines on the ridges of their head.”

The bowmouth ray is not dangerous to humans.

An illustration of a bowmouth ray (Rhychobatus ancylostomus). Image credit: History and Art Collection/Alamy

Amazingly, this sighting in K’gari is not Johnny’s first.

In 2017 Johnny was filming with a drone above a remote part of the Whitsundays when he spotted a bowmouth ray.

“I class myself as extremely lucky to have now seen two of these magnificent bowmouths in the wild. In my 20 years exploring the ocean to have seen two is an absolute honour and privilege,” he says.

Johnny is now sharing this footage to raise awareness of the bowmouth ray and encourage others to keep a look out for them, emphasising any sightings can enable researchers to learn more about the species and their populations. 

“It’s so important we talk about these sightings because we just don’t know how many are out there or if the population is still declining,” he says.

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