Fishing for help: A public plea to hand over found 'mermaid purses'

A local ocean research scientist is asking beachcombers for help with skate fish.
Carolyn Miri, with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, is asking the public to come forward with any found so-called 'mermaid purses.' (Jane Adey/CBC)

Never mind Louis Vuitton and Coach — Carolyn Miri is looking to get her hands on mermaid's purses.

Miri, a scientist with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans in St. John's, studies skate fish.

Young skates grow in hard-shelled egg cases, commonly called mermaid's or devil's purses in Newfoundland and Labrador.

We explore the quirky characteristics of this bottom dwelling, wing flapping, elasmobranch and why scientists need your help finding their eggs. Plus, not just for boil ups any more. Mussel jewellery! 23:47

"Anyone going for a walk along the coastline or just beachcombing, you can often see skate purses mixed in with whatever else has been washed up ashore," said Miri.

DFO research vessels cannot survey in shallow water where many mermaid's purses are showing up, she said. That's why she's asking for the public's help.

"We're not getting our hands on these purses," she said.

"If they they see a mermaid's purse, if the skate case is empty, if they could take the egg case home and completely dry it out [they should] then tuck it in an envelope."

Miri can be reached by email at carolyn.miri@dfo-mpo.gc.ca or by phone 709-772-0471.

Skate fish (Jane Adey/CBC)

Miri is looking for details about where and when the case was found to help improve the data base on this species.

The skate is a cousin of the shark and the ray, all fish that are called elasmobranchs, which lack bones.

Waters off this province are home to 12 varieties of skate, and the two largest species in the northwest Atlantic. Some adults can grow to almost six feet in length with a wing span of 4.5 feet. 

Miri said the mermaid's purses, produced by females, can help scientists uncover a lot that is still unknown about skates.

"Each purse is designed differently. They look different for each skate species and so based on the egg case itself, we can figure out what was the skate species that hatched there or nearby," said Miri.

Listen to the Broadcast

If you want to learn more about the quirky characteristics of the skate fish, listen to Jane Adey's interview with Carolyn Miri by clicking the audio link above.

The Broadcast can be heard weekdays at 6:05 pm on CBC Radio One.

About the Author

Jane Adey

CBC News

Jane Adey hosts CBC Radio's The Broadcast, and has worked for many other CBC programs, including Here & Now, Land & Sea and On The Go.