Shark Bay ray rescue prompts calls for review of fishing rules for endangered species

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VideoShark Bay locals have succeeded in saving dozens of giant shovelnose rays stranded in shallow pools. Credit: Finn Films

Shark Bay locals involved in the dramatic rescue of stranded giant shovelnose rays this week have called for a review of fishing laws which allow the critically endangered species to be caught.

Up to 200 juvenile individuals — which are also known as guitar fish — are believed to have swam into the bay during a high tide to hunt, becoming stranded when the tide receded.

“I’ve honestly never seen anything like this,” local videographer and rescuer Leon Deschamps said.

“It’s not uncommon to see them in the bay but they're a critically endangered species. It was like discovering a pond full of pandas.”

The school of rays — some measuring up to 1m long — were discovered stuck on Sunday morning by a friend of Mr Deschamps walking her dog at the Denham lookout.

“She was a bloody champion,” he said. “By the time myself and a few others had gotten there she had already carried at least 20 individuals 50m up the beach to a deeper pool.”

The team worked for hours to move them to a larger catchment of water and dug a channel hoping the tide wise rise high enough to save the creatures.

Leon Deschamps pulls one of the stranded rays from the water in Shark Bay.
Camera IconLeon Deschamps pulls one of the stranded rays from the water in Shark Bay. Credit: Finn Films

Another rescuer, Denham local Shayne Thomson, said the rays were initially stuck in a pool of water just 2cm deep.

“When we went back down on Monday morning the pool had dried out completely, so they would have perished for sure if nothing was done,” he said.

But they worried whether they would survive in the larger pool, with the open ocean more than 200 metres away.

Dozens of giant shovelnose rays were left stranded in 2cm of water by a receding tide.
Camera IconDozens of giant shovelnose rays were left stranded in 2cm of water by a receding tide. Credit: Finn Films

At 6.30am on Tuesday it was discover they’d made it out when the tide rose overnight.

“What a great feeling that was,” Mr Deschamps said. “There were a lot of smiling faces up here.”

Social media posts about the ray rescue have attracted thousands of likes, comments and shares, leading Mr Deschamps to call for a review of “old and outdated fishing laws”.

“The Bay has been described by researchers as a lifeboat population for the species,” he said. “The irony is there is no protection for them in our marine park, you can catch up to three of these critically endangered species daily.”

“The social media response was so positive I hope it translates into meaningful change.”

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