Thorny Skate | Oceana Canada

Canadian Marine Life Encyclopedia

Thorny Skate

Amblyraja radiata

Also known as

Thorny back, thornback, maiden ray, starry ray, starry skate


North Atlantic; Northwest Atlantic from Greenland and Hudson Bay South Carolina


Soft bottoms

Feeding Habits

Active predator

Conservation Status

Special concern/data deficient


Order Rajiformes (skates & relatives); Family Rajidae (skates)


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Skates may look similar to flatfish, but they are actually much more closely related to sharks. Like sharks, a skate’s skeleton is made up of cartilage, which is softer and more flexible than bone. Skates commonly have small spines or modified scales on their bodies, but the thorny skate is aptly named because it is practically covered in these tiny thorny looking spines. They have a row of 10 to 20 large, conspicuous spines that run along their midline down their back and reaching their tail. They also have one large spine in front of and one behind each eye, large spines on each shoulder, and numerous smaller spines on their snout, pectoral fins and tail.

Currently, there is only one active fishery that targets thorny skates, which occurs on the Grand Banks off the southeast shore of Newfoundland. There also used to be a mixed fishery for both thorny skates and winter skates on the eastern Scotian Shelf, however that fishery was closed after both species saw great declines in abundance. Even so, thorny skates are caught as bycatch (incidental catch) in trawl, long line and gillnet fisheries across their range. Oceana Canada is campaigning to reduce bycatch in Canadian waters and help protect species like skates. Find out more at