If you recognized this animal what did you call it? Was it the Fiddler ray or Banjo ray or Banjo shark or Southern Fiddler ray? It is known by all these common names. We will use Southern Fiddler ray for this Creature Feature.
This animal is a ray, but not a stingray. A stingray has a slender tail with venomous barb and swims using a rippling motion of its wings. The Southern Fiddler Ray is different, it has a solid tail with two dorsal fins that end with a well-formed caudal fin. They use their tail to swim, not their wings and their tail does not have a barb. Like a stingray, the Southern Fiddler ray has its mouth and gill slits on the underside of its body and its eyes on top.
The Southern Fiddler rays are often seen swimming or resting in sandy shallows or in amongst seagrass beds. They are carnivorous animals feeding on worms, crustaceans, fish, and molluscs. To help them locate food, which may be buried under the sand, they use electroreceptors. These are small pits located on the lower surface of their body, especially around the mouth, that can detect the weak electrical signals given off by living things. This allows them to locate and then catch their prey. It is a good sense to have when you cannot see your prey once it is under your body. Did you know that the Australian two monotremes, the platypus and echidna, both have electroreceptors?
The Southern Fiddler ray has gills to extract oxygen from the water but unlike other fish, it has two paths water can take to reach its gills, one from the top of its body and one from below. On the bottom of its body water is drawn in through the mouth and passed over the gills. The advantage of this method is that it can move a larger volume of water over the gills and so extract more oxygen. The other method uses a hole on the top of the body behind each eye, called a spiracle. Water enters the spiracle and passes down through the body to the gills. This method allows the Southern Fiddler ray to rest on, or be buried in the sand and still be able to pass water over its gills.
In April/May the Southern Fiddler ray gives birth to up to 6 young each around 25 centimetres in length. The young have developed over the last 12 months in an egg, which has remained inside the mother’s body. The young hatch just prior to birth.
This is not an aggressive animal and it is well worth keeping an eye out for them next time you are at the beach. Unfortunately, these rays are often caught as bycatch and can suffer traumatic injuries if they are kept out of the water for too long and when unsuitable hook retrieval methods are used. If you catch a ray by accident and you cannot remove the hook without causing traumatic injuries, please cut the line as close as possible to the impact site and return the animal to the water gently and as soon as possible.
In Victoria, you are not permitted to catch and keep these or any other rays from within 400 metres of a man-made structure such as a pier or a break-wall, and if you catch a ray from outside of these exclusion zones there is a catch limit of one animal. You must also land and keep the ray as a whole specimen, which means you are not allowed to cut the ray into small pieces. This rule is to minimize the illegal selling of rays to food outlets as another legal catch species. If you suspect someone is breaking our fishing rules, do not approach them, move well away and then please phone our 24/7 reporting hotline 13 FISH (13 3474) as soon as possible.
Watch as Southern Fiddler rays swim around Port Phillip Bay. Can you make a link between the soundtrack and the animal?
If you would like to learn more about the huge diversity of life that can be found along our coasts and shorelines, please contact Education Director Mandy Robertson on firstname.lastname@example.org for a public event, school holiday program or school incursion/excursion.