[INSIGHTS] Captive Birth of White Spotted Guitarfish

The White Spotted Guitarfish (Rhinobatos djiddensis) is a large inshore guitarfish native to the western Indian Ocean – from the Red Sea to South Africa. In 2016, S.E.A. Aquarium successfully bred this vulnerable species for the first time, with four pups born under human care. Aquarists Sheryl Seet, Kenneth Kwan, Lin Jiahong and the Manta Ray Team documented their experience below.

In March 2016, our female White Spotted Guitarfish displayed copulatory behaviour. Three months later on 22 June, a routine ultrasound scan revealed that it was pregnant. We were all  very excited as this was a first for S.E.A. Aquarium.

White spotted guitarfish
The pregnant White Spotted Guitarfish was carefully isolated for its routine ultrasound procedure.
White spotted guitarfish
(left) Veterinary team conducting the ultrasound procedure. (right) Ultrasound image of a pup in the mother’s womb.

Birth and growth

White Spotted Guitarfish are ovoviviparious; meaning they give birth to their young alive, from eggs that are hatched within the mother’s body. On 21 August 2016, we welcomed four White Spotted Guitarfish pups.

Each pup bears a unique spotting pattern either on its pectoral base fin or upper body.

White spotted guitarfish
Different identification patterns of the 4 pups.

It was a learning journey for all of us at S.E.A Aquarium as White Spotted Guitarfish are rarely documented in the wild, much less in captivity. On top of that, it was our first successful breeding of this species, and the first time nurturing newborn pups.

Two pups did not survive beyond the first few months. However, under the care of our dedicated aquarists, the other two survived and continued to grow healthily.

White spotted guitarfish

The pups were in neonatal period during the first 25 days, as indicated by their consistent growth and gradual weight increase. Subsequently, the rapid weight gain showed that they have entered the juvenile stage.

White spotted guitarfish
Regular morphometric analysis (measurement of external form) of the pups to monitor their growth.

Today, the 8-month-old pups are about 60 centimetres long (full-grown adults can reach 3 metres), and are currently housed in our Shipwreck Habitat while their parents are in Open Ocean Habitat. We will constantly monitor them till adulthood to obtain more data.

About the White Spotted Guitarfish

White spotted guitarfish

  • Species name: Rhynchobatus djiddensis
  • Recognized by large black spots on both sides of their pectoral base and rows of white spots on their upper body.
  • Diet: crustaceans, prawns and fish (e.g. Horse Mackerel and Yellowstripe Scad).
  • Due to their dermersal lifestyle (living and feeding on or near the bottom of seas or lakes) and intensive inshore fishing, they are often caught as bycatch in commercial trawl and dredge nets. To make matters worse, this species is particularly valued for their fins.
  • According to the IUCN Red List website, it is assessed as Vulnerable globally due to inferred population declines and continuing, unregulated high levels of exploitation.
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