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What is an Angel Shark?

An Angel Shark is a unique marine predator, resembling a blend of shark and ray with its flattened body and wide pectoral fins. These bottom-dwellers camouflage expertly, striking swiftly at unsuspecting prey. Their conservation status is alarming, with many species threatened by human activities. Discover how these creatures navigate their underwater realm and what we can do to ensure their survival. What steps can we take?
Steve R.
Steve R.

An angel shark receives its name from its extended, wide pectoral fins that appear similar to wings. The sea creature, which looks like a stingray, has a flattened head and grows to lengths of up to 6.5 feet (about 2 m) long. Dwelling at depths up to 4,300 feet (1,300 m), the shark prefers warm ocean temperatures and mostly lives in the southern hemisphere.

The sea creature has a gray, red, or greenish-brown appearance. Along its body, an angel shark possesses tiny white splotches and dark dots. Near its nose, the sea creature has whisker-like protrusions that aid it in tasting and feeling. Large, circular eyes at the top of its head allow the shark to have excellent vision, improving its hunting skills.

A commercial fishing boat.
A commercial fishing boat.

Also referred to as the monk shark, sand devil, and monkfish, the angel shark is an expert in camouflaging itself to blend into its surroundings of sand and rocks on the bottom of the sea. A nocturnal predator, the creature conceals itself in sand and mud on the ocean floor during the day and hunts its prey at night. As a bottom-dweller, the angel shark has muscles that push water through its gills and through holes in its head. This allows the shark to lie quietly on the ocean floor while it waits for its prey to swim by.

Since the angel shark is not a fast swimmer, it relies on the element of surprise to catch its food. The shark ambushes its unwitting prey by attacking with its trap-like jaw and small, but sharp, teeth. Angel sharks feast on bony fish, crustaceans, and mollusks, eating them whole.

The sea creature, known by the scientific name squatina squatina, reproduces through a method called aplacental viviparity. During gestation, eggs develop and hatch inside of the female. Angel sharks give birth to young called pups. During a shark's pregnancy, there is no placenta to provide sustenance for the pups. While pups are inside their mother, the young will eat any unfertilized egg and may even feed on each other. A litter may contain as many as 13 pups.

Once plentiful in temperate and tropical waters including the Northeast Atlantic, Mediterranean Sea, and the Black Sea, the angel shark is considered an endangered species. As bottom dwellers, the creatures are often accidentally getting caught in commercial fishing nets and lines. In 2009, European fisheries banned the retention of angel sharks and mandated the return of any creature obtained unintentionally.

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    • A commercial fishing boat.
      By: Paul Hamilton
      A commercial fishing boat.