This week, a curious-looking thing washed up on the shores of a Canterbury beach in Christchurch, New Zealand. Hanna Mary was the first person to spot the beached creature and originally thought that it was a piece of plastic sheeting or a visitor from outer space.
“My first thought was that it was something alien, but I was more fascinated than anything,” Mary told the New Zealand Herald.
With its skeletal physique, razor-sharp fangs, and piercing hooks, it looks like it stepped (or swam) through a time warp from the Jurassic period to the present day.
To identify the mystery animal, Mary took it to a taxidermist but he couldn’t give her any answers. And so, she turned to friends and family on Facebook. Here, she had slightly better luck.
“I uploaded the photos on Facebook and we were all taking guesses, most people said skate,” she said.
But still, whenever they tried to match the animal to the guess, it wasn’t quite the right fit.
“My guess is that it’s some sort of deep-sea skate, maybe a Bathyraja abyssicola, that might have been picked up by a trawler,” Mary added.
Fortunately, Malcolm Francis, a fisheries scientist and marine ecologist at the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research in New Zealand, was at hand to offer some answers – and it turned out Mary was on the right track. It was a type of skate. Specifically, a male Dipturus nasutus (aka a New Zealand rough skate), which is commonly found in the waters off New Zealand’s South Island.
“It’s like [a] flat shark, it has a skeleton made out of cartilage,” he said. “They spend much of their time on the bottom.”
According to fishingmag.co.nz, New Zealand’s online fishing magazine, they can be found up to 100 meters (330 feet) off the coast and are frequently picked up by fishermen, who sell their wings to local fishmongers and supermarkets. They tend to be brown and have an off-white underside and grow to lengths of around 70 centimeters (27.5 inches).
What’s more, those creepy “claws” are, in fact, alar spines, which are used by male skates to cling onto females during mating.
Francis suspects this particular individual was caught by a fisherman who then threw it overboard before it washed up on the beach.