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Video: 'Mermaid's Purse' on N. Oregon Coast Yields Life, Released Into Bay

Published 4/30/24 at 4:45 p.m.
By Andre' Hagestedt, Oregon Coast Beach Connection

Video: 'Mermaid's Purse' on N. Oregon Coast Yields Life, Released Into Bay

(Netarts, Oregon) – It's not every day you find still-gestating eggs on the beaches of the Oregon coast, then play maternity nurse to them for several months – and then release them into a nearby bay. (Photos Seaside Aquarium)

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Not even Seaside Aquarium does that every day, but that's exactly what they did from October 2, 2023 through April 17 of this year. Five big skates (Raja binoculata) were just released back into the wild after gestating for months and then hatching. They hatched on April 1, then spent a couple weeks fattening up and getting ready. On April 17, the aquarium let them go into Netarts Bay near Oceanside.

Meanwhile, they filmed the whole journey. The video is below.

Tiffany Boothe of Seaside Aquarium found the skate egg casing in Seaside in October. They feel like plastic, she said, and they're often referred to as Mermaid Purses. If you're really lucky, there's still eggs inside that are alive.

“A common treasure a sharp-eyed visitor might happen across is a skate egg casing,” Boothe told Oregon Coast Beach Connection. “About a foot in length and resembling a chunk of seaweed, these egg casings are produced by the female skate and after fertilization are deposited on the ocean floor. A single casing can have anywhere from 1 to 7 embryos inside, though typically they have 3 - 4. Large surf and heavy storms will sometimes dislodge the egg casings from the ocean floor and push them up onto the beach.”

Every year we find/receive skate egg casings from big skates which have washed up on shore. Unable to simply place the egg casing back into the ocean due to the fact that they would wash back up, we place them in holding tanks in the back of the aquarium. It can take up to 11 months for the embryos inside to fully develop. Once they hatch, we start fattening them up. When they are a few months old and eating well we can release them back into the ocean. We just recently released five big skates. Here is a video of their journey.

Posted by Seaside Aquarium on Monday, April 29, 2024

Boothe said normally these casings dry up after getting stranded on the beach and the embryos perish. People sometimes bring them into the aquarium, but if they have the tell-tale fishy smell, the eggs are dead.

“Reaching up to 8 feet and weighing well over 180 pounds, this species of skate can live for up to 30 years,” she said.

They are occasionally found just north of here, on the Washington coast as well.

The video shows a lovely bit of life cycle:

Boothe finds them on the beach. The eggs remain in the casings in a tank, with a hole cut in the casing so staff can watch. After months of this, you finally see little, pinkish skates formed from the eggs, and eventually they are put in one tank or another during their “fattening” process.

At the end, Boothe said that is actual footage of them being released into Netarts Bay.

“Netarts Bay provides protection from the surf and has a lot of food for them. It is an ideal place for these guys to start their journey,” she said.

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In previous years, grownup skates sometimes wash up as well

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Andre' GW Hagestedt is editor, owner and primary photographer / videographer of Oregon Coast Beach Connection, an online publication that sees over 1 million pageviews per month. He is also author of several books about the coast.

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