Bowmouth guitarfish is a distinctive new addition to the aquarium

  • 04 April 2014 | Ann Kunz | Category: Species

A bowmouth guitarfish (Rhina ancylostoma)

A distinctive and unusual 2.18m-long bowmouth guitarfish is the latest attraction in the Open Ocean exhibit at uShaka Sea World's aquarium.

On arrival at the rehabilitation centre in January 2014, the beautifully patterned fish was instantly named after Jimi Hendrix, one of the greatest guitarists of all time.

Although uncommon, bowmouth guitarfish (Rhina ancylostoma) are widely distributed in coastal tropical waters of the western Indo-Pacific. They are strong swimmers and most active at night. 

Local angler Kyle Smith caught the fish off the beach in front of the Durban Ski-Boat Club at midnight on 30 January 2014. It was immediately transferred to the uShaka Sea World rehabilitation centre to recover overnight.

Kyle set a new South African shore-angling record for this species – the previous record was 36kg, while Jimmy topped the scales at a whopping 87.6kg.

Bowmouth guitarfish are distinctive in appearance with a wide, thick body, rounded snout and large shark-like dorsal and tail fins, with multiple thorny ridges over both head and back. Distinctive and impressive, yes, but cuddly Jimmy certainly isn’t. To the touch his entire dorsal surface feels grainy due to a dense covering of tiny dermal denticles (teeth), while his thick midline ridge bears a band of sharp, robust thorns.

Bowmouth guitarfish usually feed on benthic fish such as sole, as well as crustaceans and molluscs, although some studies have shown these predators to feed on pelagic rather than demersal animals. While Jimmy was in quarantine he was fed a diet of prawns, crabs, squid and fish such as mackerel.

It's easy to see why the bowmouth guitarfish is also known as a shark ray


Jimmy readily approached quarantine staff to take food and soon learned to respond to and identify a “target” held in the water as a food signal.  Before he could be introduced to the Open Ocean exhibit, staff needed to be sure they could monitor his feeding, and the only way of doing so would be to feed him apart from the rest of the fish and rays. Within a month he had figured out the benefits of responding to his target.

Before being introduced to the other Open Ocean inhabitants, which include Kevin, a smaller bowmouth guitarfish, Jimmy was microchipped and blood samples were taken. Microchipping allows us to identify individual animals, much like veterinarians do for domestic cats and dogs. Blood samples were taken to acquire his individual baseline blood levels in order to monitor and manage his future health. If blood taken during one of the annual medical health checks reveal any changes in blood chemistry, we will be timeously alerted to potential health concerns.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature has assessed the bowmouth guitarfish as vulnerable because it is widely caught by artisanal and commercial fisheries for fins and meat. Fins are used in shark-fin soup and the meat is sold either fresh, dried or salted.

Next time you visit the aquarium, make sure you look out for Jimmy and, if time permits, ask one of the staff when his next feeding time is so you can see him enjoying a meal.

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