Conservationists are studying the remains of a 'critically endangered' shark fish that was discovered washed up on a beach in the Scottish Highlands with injuries.

Flapper skate can live to 100 years and were once common in British waters but now only small populations remain, including in Scotland.

They have been categorised as Critically Endangered by the  International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) following a long period of overexploitation.

The flapper skate was discovered on Cuil Bay in the village of Duror in Lochaber by Sandi Macleod, who captured the image below and is thought to be female, weighing around 100lbs.

READ MORE: Watch viral video of rays, skates and other fish dumped by trawler 

Nature Scot is trying to establish what caused its death but said the injuries were consistent with human handling.

A spokeswoman said: "It is not possible to say definitively, but it is most likely that this has happened when the skate has been caught as bycatch in a fishery – this is something that has been seen before."

The sighting was reported by the Marine and Coastal Conservation of Linnhe group.

Liz Paul, who is part of the group said: "The flapper skate was seen by some campers in distress the evening before it was washed up.

"There were cuts to the skate's face, it was quite brutal."

The Herald:

Historically flapper skate were overfished and often caught as by-catch during trawl fishing.

In 2009, it became illegal to land flapper skates and blue skates commercially in Scotland. Fishermen are required to return them unharmed as quickly as possible.

The Herald:

They belong to the elasmobranch or shark family. Instead of bones, it has a skeleton formed of cartilage.

READ MORE: Why tiny jellyfish are such a big threat to salmon 

They can reach up to 285cm (for the larger female sex) and seem to prefer deep (100m+) muddy habitats where they eat prawns and other skates and small sharks. 

The flesh has rings, which can be counted to give an accurate age.

Jane Dodd, marine operations officer, said: "NatureScot was alerted to a flapper skate found washed up on the beach at Cuil Bay.

"We attended and scanned the skate for a tag, but unfortunately it didn’t have one.

"We also took a photograph and ran this through our online database, Skatespotter, but it isn’t known to us. 

"We do not yet know the cause of death, but the injuries seen on this skate are consistent with cuts being made to enable handling of this large fish species, something that has been recorded before.

"We are speaking with colleagues in the Scottish Government’s Marine Directorate on ways we can help provide practical measures and education on how to handle flapper skate when they are caught.”

The Herald:

Loch Sunart to the Sound of Jura Nature Conservation Marine Protected Area was designated in 2015 to protect the resident flapper skate population.

In 2016, it became illegal to fish using towed gears in certain parts of the NCMPA. 

In the 1500s sailors invented a tradition to fake an item upon return from long voyages. This included cutting and drying skate into the shape of mermaids or demons, often known as Jenny Haniver.