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Wonderful Wedgefish

Wedgefish are one of my favourite creatures to encounter on the reef, 50% shark, 50% ray and 100% badass. So what are they?

A Bottlenose Wedgefish on a beautiful day on the Ningaloo. 1/400s F.9 ISO 100

Technically it is a ray, with the gills on the Ventral (underside) of the fish, although they do look quite sharky. Seeing as many people have never heard of them and I reckon they’re pretty cool, I thought I’d share a post on them.

One of the local Wedgies cruising around one of his main stomping grounds. 1/250s F.8 ISO 125

Globally there are 16 different species of wedgefish, but in Australia we have 4 and we can see them all on the Ningaloo Reef, however some are harder to find than others and they are all quite similar, apart from the Bowmouth or Shark Ray. Most commonly encountered here is the Bottlenose Wedgefish, which typically inhabit the shallow lagoon areas but do sometimes venture out into deeper water.

A rare encounter with a very small juvenile wedgefish, about 50cm. 1/400s F.9 ISO 100

Although they look pretty mean, they pose no threat to humans and feed mostly bottom dwelling fish, crustaceans and molluscs. They are slow to grow, mature and reproduce making them particularly vulnerable to overfishing from people. There also hasn’t been a great deal of research on their life history, (where/when do they breed, how much do they move around etc) which makes them harder to protect. Wedgefish are pretty large and can reach about 3m long, they also are Ovoviviparous and give birth to live small litters of live young.

One of the largest I've seen, almost 3m long. 1/400s F.9 ISO 100

Their taxonomy and naming is a little confusing, with shark-rays, wedgefish, guitarfish or guitar sharks and shovel nose rays all being closely related but slightly different. One of the easiest ways to tell them apart is differences in fin structure and colour. If you look closely at the shovel nose ray below, you can see it doesn't have a lower lobe in its tail fin, whereas wedges do, they are also typically darker and sharkier looking in my opinion.

A shovelnose ray, sometimes known as a guitarfish. 1/250s F.8 ISO 250

They can be difficult animals to photograph, first off you need to be lucky to meet one, they are one of the rarer animals to encounter here on the Ningaloo, and that being said Australia is one of the last places in the world where you have a reasonable chance of seeing one. If you do get to meet one, they can be shy if approached, especially if you dive above them or chase them - Like all marine life, you’ll have a much better chance of ‘getting the shot’ if you respect the wildlife and let them come to you. If they do allow you to get in close, then I feel like they are often better captured in portrait.

I feel like their shape makes them better suited to portrait shots. 1/400s F.9 ISO 100
The same animal, in landscape. He was really relaxed and not bothered by the camera! 1/400s F.9 ISO 100

Wedgefish are the 3rd most endangered Chondrichtan fish (sharks/rays) and most people have no idea they even exsist! One of the biggest threats to these animals is the shark fin soup industry. Not only are their fins large and impressive, but because they're bottom feeders, their fins are typically less contaminated with toxins and heavy metals which work their way up the food chain and are found in high concentrations in other shark fins. This makes the fins of high value in the trade and therefore they are heavily targeted with few controls in place to protect the species in many areas. It is thought populations have declined globally by upto 80% in the last 45 years with a few places like Australia, where the species have refuge.

A wedgie patrolling on an absolutely beautiful Ningaloo morning. 1/400s F.9 ISO 100

So spare a thought for Wedgies, maybe not as 'sexy' as other elasmobranchs getting all the attention, but just as special and in so much need of protection!

This big fella evicted the little whitetip from below this bommie and settled in for a nap!

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