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Bottomfish Identification: Sharks, Skates and Ratfishes

Big Skate
Raja binoculata

Caught incidentally in the commercial fishery off the Washington coast with otter-trawls, longline, and jig handline gear.  Caught incidentally by recreational harvesters off the outer Washington coast and in Puget Sound. 

Description: The body of the big skate is gray, brown, reddish brown, olive-brown, or blackish, often with rosettes of white, sometimes with dark spots or blotches below.  A large ocellus (ringed spot) is present in the middle of each pectoral fin.  This species has a flattened, diamond-shaped body slightly wider than it is long, with a long, moderately pointed snout. It has small eyes that are placed just ahead of large spiracles. This species has small teeth with raised cusps. Two small dorsal fins are on the tail, the anal fin is absent, and the caudal fin is reduced to a simple fold. There is a weak notch in the rear edge of each pelvic fin. The dorsal surface of the big skate has one spine at the midback, followed by a middorsal row of spines over the pelvic fins and on the tail (sometimes there is no row over the pelvic fins).  The upper surface of this skate otherwise lacks large spines.  Large adults of this species have small denticles (scales). The undersurface of this skate is nearly smooth.

Maximum Size: To 2.4 m (8 ft), but rarely over 1.8 m (6 ft), in length, and 91 kg (200 lbs) in weight.

Maximum Age: 26 years old.

Range/Habitat: Big skate range from the Bering Sea and southeast Alaska to central Baja, California. They are rare south of Point Conception, California.  They are found from the intertidal to 800 m (2,600 ft) in depth but are most common at moderate depths of 3 to 100 m (10-360 ft). They occur in coastal bays, estuaries, and over the continental shelf, usually on sandy or muddy bottoms, but occasionally on low strands of kelp.


  • Eschmeyer, W.N., E.S. Herald and H. Hammann, 1983. A field guide to Pacific coast fishes of North America. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, U.S.A. 336 p.
  • Froese, Rainer, and Daniel Pauly, eds., 2009. "Raja binoculata" in FishBase. March 2009 version.
  • McFarlane, G.A. and J.R. King, 2006. Age and growth of big skate (Raja binoculata) and longnose skate (Raja rhina) in British Columbia waters. Fisheries Research 78 (2-3): 169–178.

Photo: E. Wright and S. Axtell