Walkers, divers and fishermen in Argyll are being asked to report sightings of common skate egg cases.
Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) is looking for help to learn more about where the huge fish are breeding.
The call for information comes after a Marine Protected Area (MPA) for common skate was put in place last year between Loch Sunart and the Sound of Jura. The west coast of Scotland and Orkney appear to be the last strongholds for the critically endangered fish in the UK.
The common skate was once widely distributed and was an important part of the inshore commercial fishery. However the numbers have fallen dramatically and it is now classed as critically endangered.
Living in deep, dark water, common skate grow to up to 10ft in length, live for up to 100 years and weigh more than 15 stone.
Common skate reproduce by laying tough, leathery egg cases on the seabed which often become trapped between rocks by the curved “horns” at the corners of the case. Each egg case holds a tiny embryo which develops over several months into a miniature skate. Once the tiny fish has hatched, the egg case, also known as a mermaid’s purse, often washes ashore on nearby beaches.
Jane Dodd, SNH marine operations officer, said: “We’d like everyone in Argyll to look out for skate egg cases, particularly people going to the beach over the summer holidays. And if you are a diver and remember seeing them on a dive please scour your log book and let us know where, when and how many you saw – even if you can only give us approximate dates and locations this might help us solve the mystery of when and where skate lay their eggs.
“Common skate egg cases are the largest egg cases you are likely to find – and the rarest. They are about the size of an A4 sheet of paper, so they are easy to distinguish from other shark and ray egg cases which are much smaller.
“Please take away any skate egg cases you find on the beach so they won’t be reported again by someone else and email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with the location, date and time you found them. If you can attach a photo of the egg case as well, with a ruler or a 2p piece for scale, that would be great. You can also ring me at the SNH office in Oban on 0300 244 9360.”