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.

Thorny skates were assessed by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) as of Special Concern in 2012. They were assessed as such because of population declines from the 1970s to 1990s due to high fishing pressure from groundfish fisheries. Population declines leading to closure of many groundfish fisheries in the 1990s has halted the decline of thorny skates in many regions. Although many populations of are now considered stable, they are still found in low numbers compared to historical averages. Bycatch is the greatest threat to the recovery of thorny skates in Canada today. Help protect skates from becoming bycatch at