Can angels be saved from extinction?

Joanna Barker

I’ve recently returned from a research trip in the Canary Islands, where I was lucky enough to encounter three angel sharks during one dive on my birthday! They have superb camouflage and are very tricky to spot, but with the help of the Angel Shark Project team we found and took measurements of this Critically Endangered species.

Joanna Barker diving the Canary Islands
Me getting excited about the birthday sighting
 

Today, as the first ever full assessment of the conservation status of all 1,220 marine fish species native to Europe is published, I find myself reflecting on the future of this amazing species.

The European Red List of Marine Species is published by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the European Commission (EC). Each species has been assessed by leading experts using IUCN Red List criteria and allocated to one of nine categories: Extinct, Regionally Extinct, Extinct in the Wild, Critically Endangered, Endangered, Vulnerable, Near Threatened, Least Concern, Data Deficient. 

Sharks, rays and chimaeras – all members of the Chondrichthyes family - were found to be the most threatened group of marine fish in Europe, with a staggering 40.4% of them threatened with extinction.

In total, 7.5% of all European marine fish species are threatened with extinction in European waters. There is particular concern for marine fish species in the Mediterranean Sea, western coast of Portugal and the Macaronesian islands, where the highest number of threatened species have been identified. 

Saving angels

Given the dire statistics around shark numbers, the Angel Shark Project, run by ZSL, Universidad de Las Palmas de Gran Canaria (ULPGC) and Zoological Museum Alexander Koenig (ZFMK), has become even more urgent. We are working together to secure the future of the angel shark (Squatina squatina) in Europe, with support from the IUCN Shark Specialist Group. 

The angel shark was once widespread across Europe, but has undergone dramatic declines over the last 100 years as practices like bottom trawling have intensified. Now, angel sharks are only regularly sighted in the Canary Islands, the last stronghold for the species, but here too they are under threat. 

Angel shark duo
Angel shark duo. Image (c) Carlos Suarez.

Send us your sightings

We’re currently focusing on gathering much needed data on angel sharks in the Canary Islands, as well as working with local communities, researchers and government to deliver conservation action. 

If you dive or fish in the Canary Islands you can help us protect angel sharks by reporting sightings of them to our online database ePoseidon (www.programaposeidon.eu) developed by ULPGC. This tool lets you register sightings on an online map, so you can record exactly where you had your encounter. You are then asked to provide additional information on the date and time of the sighting, depth of sighting, water temperature, habitat type, sex of the shark and size of the shark.

We are using these data to identify important angel shark habitat in the archipelago and to better understand life history traits (e.g. timing of the breeding season) to inform conservation. 

In 2014 a sighting registered on ePoseidon led us to El Hierro – a location where there were previously thought to be no angel sharks. So it shows just how valuable your sightings can be.

Want to know more?

Find out more about the Angel Shark Project at www.zsl.org/angelsharks or www.angelsharkproject.com
Follow us on Twitter for regular updates: @angelshark2014 and @ZSLMarine
Find out more about the IUCN Red Listing process here: www.iucnredlist.org 
Read the European Red List of Marine Species here

 

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