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What is an Angel Shark?

By Steve R.
Updated May 21, 2024
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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.

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.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is an Angel Shark?

Angel sharks are a unique genus of sharks known for their flat bodies and wide pectoral fins, resembling rays more than typical sharks. They inhabit sandy seabeds in coastal areas, where they camouflage and ambush prey. Despite their serene name, they are skilled predators, using their flat bodies to blend into the ocean floor before striking.

Where can Angel Sharks be found?

Angel sharks were once widespread across the northeastern Atlantic and Mediterranean Sea. However, due to significant population declines, their presence has become patchy. They prefer temperate waters and are often found buried in sandy or muddy bottoms, from the shallows down to depths of 150 meters, waiting to ambush prey.

What do Angel Sharks eat?

Angel sharks are carnivorous and have a diet consisting mainly of fish, crustaceans, and mollusks. They are ambush predators, lying in wait for their prey to come close before swiftly capturing them with their powerful jaws. Their flat bodies allow them to remain hidden under the sand, making them effective stealth hunters.

Are Angel Sharks dangerous to humans?

Angel sharks are not typically considered dangerous to humans due to their reclusive nature and preference for staying buried in the sand. However, like many wild animals, they can become aggressive if provoked or stepped on, potentially leading to defensive bites. It's always wise to exercise caution and respect their space in the water.

What is the conservation status of Angel Sharks?

Many species of angel sharks are facing significant threats and are listed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Overfishing, habitat destruction, and bycatch have severely impacted their populations. Conservation efforts are crucial to prevent their extinction and ensure the survival of these distinctive sharks.

How do Angel Sharks reproduce?

Angel sharks are ovoviviparous, meaning their eggs hatch inside the female's body, and she gives birth to live young. A single litter can range from 8 to 13 pups. Reproduction rates are low, with females maturing late and having long gestation periods, which contributes to the vulnerability of their populations to overfishing and environmental changes.

AllThingsNature is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

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