Physical Description

  • Flat-bodied fish, around 5 and a half feet long.
  • Dullish gray coloration to blend in with the sand.
  • They have long tails that make them resemble sharks more than rays. Their tails have two caudal (tail) fins of equal size.
  • Thorns (enlarged denticles or scales) extending in single line down center of back and tail.


  • Northern California to Baja California, Mexico and around to Gulf of California.


  • Live in soft sandy or muddy bottoms, often near rocky reefs.
  • Can live in water up to 39 feet deep.


  • Their nursery and spawning grounds are in bays in Southern California and Baja California.
  • Females arrive in bays in spring, stay through early summer when give birth to live pups.
  • Right after females give birth, males arrive to mate via internal fertilization, and then both males and females leave the area.
  • Each embryo receives nutrition from a yolk sac before a live birth.
  • A female can give birth to 6-28 pups at once!
  • There is no parental care after birth.


  • Bottom feeders; they eat benthic fishes, shrimp, worms, and crabs.


  • Only known predators are large coastal sharks and California sea lions.

Interesting Facts

  • Shovelnose guitarfish can pump water over their gills, so they are able to remain completely motionless.
  • Guitarfishes are actually skates, not stingrays. They do not have barbs or stingers, and are harmless to humans.
  • They live to be about 11-16 years old.
  • Shovelnose guitarfish can be eaten as seafood, often as “shark steaks.”
  • Shovelnose guitarfish have been around for 100 million years.
  • Their numbers are decreasing, and some scientists worry they may be endangered; we need to protect all sharks and ray species!

Sources: Oceana; California Sea Grant; Monterey Bay Aquarium

Photo: David R. Andrew

Want to see a shovelnose guitarfish in person? Visit Shark Shores at Birch Aquarium or the Living Coast Discovery Center!