A Busselton swimming club had the fright of their lives when they spotted a ‘small shark’ caught in the nets near the jetty on Wednesday during their morning swim.
Nine members from the club were swimming at the back of the nets when they spotted the creature which was grey in colour with distinct markings.
The swimmers promptly left the water and contacted the City of Busselton to have the creature removed from the nets.
A City of Busselton spokesperson confirmed there were actually three shovel nosed rays inside the enclosure.
Shovel nose rays are shark-like creatures which have triangular heads, according to a report from the Department of Fisheries titled ‘Sharks and shark-life rays.’
There are four species of shovel nose rays found in WA which dwell on the bottom of the continental and shelf waters, and were usually yellow to grey-brown in colour with some having dark blotches or light bands.
The City of Busselton spokesperson said a diver released two adult sized and one juvenile from the enclosure.
The spokesperson said the enclosure was open over the weekend to facilitate the Busselton Jetty Swim and it was likely the rays swam into the enclosure during that time.
”Occasionally rays will slide under the enclosure, generally they find their own way out but sometimes the diver will be called to assist with the release,” they said.
Western Australian Museum curator of fishes Dr Glenn Moore said the fish were rays and not sharks.
Dr Moore said there were two main families that looked very similar to each other – the shovel nose rays (Rhinobatidae) and wedge fishes (Rhynchobatidae).
“Without seeing the fish, it is impossible to be certain as to its identity,” he said.
“The most likely species in Busselton is the Western shovel nose ray. A related species, Southern Fiddler Ray is also common in the area, but it has a rounded snout.
“The wedge fishes are generally tropical, found in Northern Australia, but sometimes found along the West Coast. These are less likely to be in Geographe Bay, but rising sea temperatures and the Leeuwin current mean they could appear further south than usual.”
Dr Moore said shovel nose rays spend their foraging on muddy or sandy seafloors, hunting for shells, crustaceans and small fishes.
He said they were also active scavengers that were attracted to baits and dead fish.
“They are generally quiet and unassuming. Unlike many other rays, shovel nose rays and wedge fishes have no spines,” he said.
Dr Moore said the Western shovel nose ray grew to about 85cm and the Southern Fiddler Ray reached about 1.5 metres; the largest species of wedge fish could get to nearly 3m.
“Both the Western shovel nose ray and the Southern fiddler ray were very common in Geographe Bay – it is their perfect habitat,” he said.