A scuba diver has captured rare images of a juvenile angel shark off the Welsh coast, the first such recording of the species in the UK.
The diver, marine biologist Jake Davies, took photographs and video of the Squatina squatina in the north of Cardigan Bay, and says that the sighting indicates that there is now an active breeding population of angel sharks in the country.
The species, best-known to divers through encounters in the Canary Islands, was once considered abundant in the Atlantic. It is now listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened species, however, following a decline in its range over the past 50 years.
Davis is Wales co-ordinator of the Angel Shark Project: Wales (ASP:W), set up last year by Natural Resources Wales (NRW) in collaboration with the Zoological Society of London and local communities. The project is funded by On the EDGE Conservation and the Welsh government.
“I’ve always kept an eye out for angel sharks during dives, having worked to better understand the species for the last four years,” said Davies. “I couldn’t believe it when I saw the angel shark, and what was really exciting was that it was a juvenile, just 30cm in length – providing further evidence that the species is giving birth in this area.
“It was incredible to watch and film it swimming, burying into the sand and then using its camouflage to ambush prey. This footage is far beyond what we thought would be possible to capture in Wales.”
The size and white markings on the dorsal fins indicated that the shark had been born only this year. Confirmation of a breeding population indicates Wales as the northernmost extent of angel sharks’ range.
The species is protected under the Wildlife & Countryside Act and the Environment (Wales) Act, making disturbance a criminal offence.
“Little is known about the status, ecology or location of important habitats for angel sharks in Wales,” commented NRW project manager Ben Wray. “Only 4% of angel shark records gathered by ASP:W to date are of juveniles, so this footage is extremely important.
“It builds our understanding of angel shark 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”
Divers who come across or have already seen an angel shark are asked to report their sighting here.