A fisherman thought this ray was pleased about being caught because it was ‘smiling’.
Steven Mansell, 52, caught the thornback ray while fishing off Southend Pier in Essex.
He was amazed to notice the ray’s ‘face’ which made it look like it was grinning at him.
In fact, it was not – the ‘eyes’ are actually small breathing gills above its mouth, which make it look like a face.
However, Steven thought perhaps the fish could tell he was about to drop it back into the Thames Estuary.
‘She had a smile because it probably thought “this bloke is going to let me go”,’ he said.
‘It was quite a sight and a lot of my pals have commented on how it appeared to be grinning.
‘I’ll certainly remember it for a long time as it was quite a drama to get her out of the water and then to see that smile was amazing.’
Window cleaner Steven posed for photos with the 8lb ray and nicknamed it ‘smiler’.
The ray was a personal best for lifelong fisherman Steven, a father of five.
‘It was that heavy that I had to borrow a drop-net from the local angling association who were fishing there at the time, otherwise I would not have been able to get it out of the water.
‘Without that net I would have probably had to jump in to cut the line to let it go,’ he added.
Steven said: ‘Because it was a female you don’t normally keep them as they will help give us the next generation of rays.
‘If it had been a male, I could have kept it but there’s not a lot of meat on them and I rarely keep fish to eat, it’s much nicer to return them and see them swim away,” he said.
‘Because the ray was deeply hooked in its mouth Steven made the decision to cut the line in order to let the hook rust away.
‘The fish went back unharmed – it swam off strongly. It’s nice to get some pictures and then send them on.’
A spokesman for Southend Council said: ‘Thornback rays are relatively common in the Thames estuary at this time of year, though it is not often that one gets landed on the pier.
‘The most common catches being mackerel, plaice or flounder. It just goes to show what a great and unique spot Southend Pier is for anglers.’