The Gulf torpedo is an electric ray with a flattened disc-shaped body well suited to its ocean bottom habitat. It is beautifully decorated with cream or golden circles and irregular marks against a dark red or blackish-brown background (3)(4). The pectoral fins are greatly expanded and fused with the head and trunk, forming the large oval disc, and its shark-like tail is short and stout (4). Two large kidney-shaped electric organs are situated on either side of the head (2), and are visible through the skin as a pattern of hexagonal markings (4). These fascinating organs can deliver dangerous electric shocks to stun the fishes on which it feeds (2). The gulf torpedo has tiny eyes, smaller than the spiracles which are also situated on top of the head. These small, paired openings allow the torpedo to take in water to breathe when resting on the ocean floor (5).
The Gulf torpedo is a slow-swimming fish that (6), unlike many skates and rays, does not propel itself with wave-like undulations of the pectoral fins, but swims by shark-like movements of the tail fin (5). Resting frequently upon the muddy or sandy floor of its ocean habitat, it feeds on fish and invertebrates that are found there. The Gulf torpedo uses its electric shock organs to stun its chosen victim, and then uses its flexible pectoral fins to guide the prey into its mouth. The jaws and mouth of the gulf torpedo can be opened incredibly wide to allow them to swallow very large prey (6). The torpedo’s electric organs are also an effective means of defence against potential predators, such as sharks and octopuses (6).
The gulf torpedo may be threatened by their susceptibility to capture in trawl fisheries, where they are then discarded as by-catch. In addition, habitat degradation as a result of damaging human activities could be impacting this species in parts of its range (1).
It is possible that the gulf torpedo may in fact be a group of many species, each with a much more restricted distribution (1), and therefore a greater vulnerability to the threats of by-catch and habitat degradation. It is important to research this issue further, along with efforts to monitor its capture in fisheries to determine the extent to which it may be threatened (1).
Compagno, L.G.V. and Last, P.R. (1999) Torpedinidae: Torpedos. In: Carpenter, K.E. and Niem, V.H. (Eds) The living marine resources of theWestern Central Pacific. Vol. 3: Batoid fishes, chimaeras and bony fishes. Part 1 (Elopidae to Linophrynidae). Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome.
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