Rare Sighting of Angel Shark Raises Hope for the Critically Endangered Species

Rare Sighting of Angel Shark Raises Hope for the Critically Endangered Species
New footage taken off the coast of Wales shows a juvenile angel fish in action. (Gif: ZSL/JD Scuba/Gizmodo)

Remarkable footage of a lone juvenile angel shark suggests the endangered species is actively breeding in British waters.

The footage, captured by photographer and marine biologist Jake Davies, shows a single angel shark (Squatina squatina) swimming and feeding off the coast of Wales. Davies is the coordinator of Angel Shark Project: Wales, a group that’s seeking to learn more about these bottom dwellers and how they might be faring in the region.

Davies spent around 15 minutes with the angel shark, capturing photos and video of the animal in action. It’s the first underwater footage of an angel shark in Wales, which is exciting in its own right, but the specimen, at just 30 cm in length, is a juvenile — and that’s potentially good news.

“Wales hosts one of the last Angelshark populations in the northernmost part of their range, and this footage provides additional evidence that they are using waters around Wales to give birth,” Joanna Barker, senior project manager at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and a co-founder of the Angel Shark Project, explained in an email. “This is a really good sign that the population of critically endangered Angelsharks using this area are actively breeding.”

The Angel Shark Project is led by Natural Resources Wales and ZSL, and it works with local communities and fishers to gather information about the species. It’s currently against the law in Wales to hunt or disturb angel sharks.

These predatory fish can be found in shallow waters along the entire Mediterranean coast, and also the coasts of northwestern Africa and western United Kingdom. Recreational and fishing activities have led to their critically endangered status, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

Geographic range of angel sharks. Tan areas show where angel fish are resident, red shows where they're possibly locally extinct, and grey indicates where their presence is uncertain.  (Image: IUCN) Geographic range of angel sharks. Tan areas show where angel fish are resident, red shows where they’re possibly locally extinct, and grey indicates where their presence is uncertain. (Image: IUCN)

These marine animals have flattened bodies similar to rays. When hunting, they bury themselves in sand or mud, where they lie in wait for unsuspecting fish, crustaceans, or cephalopods to pass by. Angel sharks have sharp teeth, so you wouldn’t want to disturb one as it goes about its daily business.

The diminutive size of the animal caught on camera, along with white markings on its dorsal fin edges, suggests this angel shark was born this year, Barker explained. The new footage also shows that “juvenile Angelsharks use both sand and mixed habitats and they prey on gobies,” which is “vital information to build our understanding of Angelshark ecology in the region.” Gobies are small to medium-sized, bony bottom-dwelling fish.

Davies spends a lot of time diving in Wales, so Barker was “delighted” that he finally managed to spot and film an angel shark after searching for so long. He managed to catch a range of behaviours on camera, including footage of the angel shark feeding, which Barker described as a “highlight.”

Anyone with records of this species can submit them to the Angel Shark project via an interactive map. “These records are vital for our project,” said Barker.