The great decline of Ireland’s angel shark

Date: May 26, 2018

Source: The Irish Times
Author: Michael Viney

There are many strange-shaped sharks in the world, but a big fish native to big sandy bays on Ireland’s west coast is among the least shark-like of all.

Squatina squatina, the angel shark, may not, however, survive to breed there any more. Once common in Tralee Bay, it was seen there earlier this year for the first time in many years, and a population in Clew Bay seems irrevocably lost.

By an early quirk of evolution, these sharks became flattened into shapes like huge skates (up to 2.5m long for a fully grown female). But while still shark-like in biology and predatory habit, their hunting ground is the sandy seabed of shallow bays rather than deeper waters of the ocean.

They glide along in shark-fashion, propelled by a muscular tail, but also with a ripple of body fins greatly expanded into wings – hence their fanciful name. This helps the hunt for crabs and molluscs. But they also lie still, camouflaged in the sand, leaping up for flatfish with jaws of needle-like teeth.

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