July Elasmobranch of the Month: Common Angelshark
The Angelshark is flat in appearance with wide pectoral fins that are not joined from the head. The pelvic, dorsal and caudal fins are also enlarged.
Common Angelshark Image: Andy Murch
Their coloration on the dorsal side varies from grey-brown with small brown and white spots to help them camouflage with the seabed. Some individuals have light band patterns over their dorsal side. Their ventral side is white. The size of angelsharks can vary from 80-169 cm depending on whether they are male or female. The maximum total length of females is 244 cm and 183 cm in males.
The Angelshark is found in waters from Norway to Morocco and the Canary Islands as well as the Mediterranean and the Black Seas. This shark species lives on sandy seafloors up to a depth of around 150m.
The reason Angelsharks like to lay down on the sandy seafloor is so they can bury their bodies in the sand to camouflage themselves. This is so they can lunge at unsuspecting prey! They are known as ambush predators who like to hunt at night. The species mostly feed on small bony fish that you would find swimming close to the sea floor as well as molluscs and crustaceans.
The Angelshark is listed as “Critically Endangered” on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Angelsharks mostly come under threat from fishing activities that target bottom dwelling fish, where angelsharks are caught as bycatch. The types of fishing that target bottom dwelling fishing include demersal trawls, dredges, and gill nets (bottom gear).
Although angelsharks are no longer targeted directly by fisheries, in the past they were caught to eat, to use their skin for polish and for liver oil and fishmeal. They also came under pressure from recreational angling. Sadly, this along with their vulnerability to bottom fishing gear has caused the distribution of angelsharks to become more restricted and have even become extinct in some areas.
To learn more about angelshark research and conservation check out the ANGEL SHARK PROJECT
Image: Andy Murch
Campagno LJV. 1984. FAO Species Catalogue. Vol4. Sharks of the World. Annotated and illustrated catalogue of shark species known to date. Part 1 – Hexanchiformes to Lamniformes. FAI Fish. Synop. 125(4/1): 1-249. Rome, FAO.
Capapé C, Quignard JP and Mellinger J. 1990. Reproduction and development of two angel sharks, Squatina squatina and S. oculata (Pisces: Squatinidae), of Tunisian coasts: semi-delayed vitellogenesis, lack of egg capsules, and lecithotrophy. Journal of Fish Biology, 37: 347–356.
Moray G, Barker J, Hood A, Gordon C, Bartolí A, Meyers EKM, Ellis J, Sharp R, Jimenez-Alvarado D, Pollom R. 2019. Squatina squatina. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2019: e.T39332A117498371.http://dx.doi.org/10 .2305/IUCN.UK.2019-1.RLTS.T39332A117498371.en. Accessed 10th June 2019.