An exciting visitor swept along the coast of Wales recently, as photographer and marine biologist Jake Davies captured footage of the elusive angelshark (Squatina squatina) in a world-first for the UK coastline. Listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, the angelshark has been in decline for the last 50 years but this sighting of a juvenile in a novel location could help to inform conservation efforts to secure their future.
A member of the Chondrichthyes, a class of cartilaginous fish that contains sharks and rays, the angelshark has a rather exotic body plan. Much like a ray, it has winged fins and a flat body which it can submerge into the sand for a spot of ambush predating. Like some species of shark, it has impressive jaws which it can project outwards at speed to snap up passing fish before they’ve had a chance to even clock they’re in danger.
This impressive hunting strategy was captured in Davies’ video as the angelshark can be seen snatching a goby from its hiding place. As the star of the video demonstrates, their skin coloration and patterns make it easy for angelsharks to camouflage on the seabed.
“It was incredible to watch and film it swimming, burying into the sand and then using its camouflage to ambush prey,” said Davies in a press release. “This footage is far beyond what we thought would be possible to capture in Wales.”
Davies’ chance encounter has also provided an exciting insight into the birthing behaviors of angelsharks, as the shark in question was a juvenile being just 30 centimeters (12 inches) in length. That this young angelshark was hunting in North Cardigan Bay shows that the species is actively breeding in UK waters, using the Welsh waters as birthing grounds.
“I’ve always kept an eye out for Angelsharks during dives, having worked to better understand the species for the last four years,” continued Davies. “I couldn’t believe it when I saw the Angelshark, and what was really exciting was that it was a juvenile, just 30 centimeters [12 inches] in length – providing further evidence that the species is giving birth in this area.”
Owing to their rarity, angelsharks have been given a helping hand by the Angel Shark Project: Wales (ASP:W), a collaborative between Natural Resources Wales (NRW) and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL). It aims to connect locals and fishers with scientists so that such chance observations as this one can build on our understanding of angelsharks and their behaviors.
“Little is known about the status, ecology or location of important habitats for Angelsharks in Wales,” said Ben Wray, Marine Ecologist and Project Manager at NRW. “Only 4% of Angelshark records gathered by ASP:W to date are of juveniles, so this footage is extremely important. It builds our understanding of Angelshark ecology, including that they use both sand and mixed habitats and that the juveniles prey on gobies. We will use this evidence to help plan future research and discover more about this rare species in Wales.”
Seen an angelshark in the UK? Let the team know at: www.angelsharkproject.com/map