Meet Angelshark Biologist Eva Meyers
Angel sharks are listed as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List. Scientist Eva Meyers is hoping that by combining research with citizen science that this might change in the future. She is the lead scientist and project coordinator for the Angel Shark Project, located on the Canary Islands. Her current research is looking at the distribution of Squatina squatina at Universidad de Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. We are excited to share Eva’s shark story with you, but also excited to share these rare and beautiful sharks as well. To learn more about her work check out ANGEL SHARK PROJECT. 1. What is your favorite species of sharks and why? This is not an easy question, but if I would have to decide I’d go for Hammerheads. I don’t really know why, probably because since the first time I saw them in the Galapagos Islands they left quite an impression on me. I usually tend to like bizarre looking animals.
2. What is one species of shark you would like to see in the wild? I have never had the opportunity to see white sharks, so they are definitely a top priority. 3. Why did you get involved with the Angel Shark Project and what are the major goals of the project? Angel Sharks are among the most threatened sharks in the world. When I started investigating more about these sharks, I found out that they have almost entirely disappeared from their historic distribution range. The Canary Islands are the unique “hotspot” where these sharks are still frequently sighted. I was really surprised when I found out that hardly anything was known about them and that for a long time, nobody even cared about them.
Eva Next to an Angel Shark Buried in the Sand Credit: Angel Shark Project
So, by starting the Angel Shark Project, we decided to change this. The general aim of this project is to assess the conservation status of the Angel Shark (Squatina squatina) in the Canary Islands, by engaging local recreational divers as a source of data. This information should then guide future decisions to overcome the main threats this species faces, and so to guide the implementation of effective conservation measures. For this, we are now collecting data on the distribution, aggregation and breeding patterns, making an estimation of the population abundance and identifying the migratory behavior of this shark species. 4. Citizen Science has become a popular term, do you find people are excited to report their sightings and know they are helping? Yes definitely. Actually, I was really surprised to see so many people, especially recreational divers and underwater photographers, so keen on helping and supporting this project. I’ve had people here thanking me for my work and really appreciating the fact that finally somebody is doing something to preserve these sharks. I believe that Citizen Science really is a very effective method to collect a lot of data on a large scale and at the same time, it raises awareness within the community. People that go into the water everyday or make their living out of it, have a huge interest in preserving marine wildlife. So, they are really happy to be involved in a project that will not only benefit angel sharks, but also their business in the future. 5. What are the major threats to angel sharks in your area? At the moment the biggest threat to angel sharks is the lack of data. It is very hard to implement any conservation measures, without having any baseline data of this species. Probably, the major threats would be illegal fishing and sport-fishing activities, as well as a permanent disturbance by divers. Additionally, we have found that a very important nursery area of this species is located in one of the most frequented beaches in the archipelago. However, the actual effects of these threats can only be measured once we have gathered enough information on the abundance and distribution of this shark in the Canary Islands.
Neonate ( Baby) Angel Shark Credit: Angel Shark Project 6. Are there any protection for these sharks or other species of sharks? Not specifically in the Canary Islands, however, under European law: European Commission (EC 43/2009, Annex III Part B states “Angel shark in all EC waters may not be retained on board. Catches […] shall be promptly released unharmed to the extent practicable […] Fishers shall be encouraged to develop and use techniques and equipment […] for rapid and safe release of the species” and EC Regulation No. 1185/2003 Prohibition of the removal and retention of fins and the discard of shark carcasses at sea. There is also a protection through the UK Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981), where the Angel Shark is added as strictly protected animal and it was listed on the OSPAR. Unfortunately sharks here in the Canary Islands do not profit from any protection. They are exposed to permanent illegal fishing practices, which also include the famous “shark fishing” offered by several sport fishing charter boats.
7. What is your typical day like? Actually I don’t really have a typical day here. In the Canaries, things are planned 1 hour before. If the weather is good, sea is calm, there is no wind, we go into the water to find some angel sharks. This can be at 7 am on aSunday morning or depending or in the middle of the night if we want to see the sharks hunting. In between, I visit a lot of diving schools, meet with local NGO’s that work for shark conservation, attend social events related to sharks, make short trips to different islands of the archipelago and work on a species distribution model. 8. What is one of the coolest things you have gotten to see because of your research/job? This is without a doubt a dive I did 2 weeks ago underneath an aquaculture cage. I have never in my life seen such a huge amount of sharks and particularly rays all concentrated in one spot . I still have no words to describe this. 9. If you could tell people one thing about angel sharks what would it be? That they are critically endangered and at the moment, the only place you may encounter them is here in the Canary Islands! You can follow Eva and her project on twitter @AngelShark2014