How history, science and community memories will help understand and safeguard Wales’ Angelsharks

Joanna Barker

How did finding a book in ZSL’s Library help inspire a project to safeguard one of the most threatened shark species in Europe?

I’ve been lucky enough to work in ZSL’s Marine and Freshwater team for the last six years. I still remember how excited I was to start my internship at ZSL and to be given an opportunity to work for such a historic scientific society. On my second day, I had a tour of ZSL’s Library & Archives - an absolute treasure trove of historical literature, illustrations, current scientific publications and even a first edition Charles Darwin’s Origin of the Species! I would recommend you all to visit! I spent my first year at ZSL borrowing library books to read on the long commute home and learning about a fascinating array of animals through the eyes of historic explorers or world-leading zoologists.

Historical illustration of an angelshark

Since that first year, I moved to North London so that I could cycle to work each day (the underground does not connect well with someone who grew up close to the Welsh border!). The only downside of this change was losing the precious 2hrs a day of reading - but I’m quickly lured back to the library during lunch breaks if Ann or Emma (ZSL’s Librarians) email to let me know of an exciting shark text they’ve just discovered!

Most notable to me are two books that they found:

The first written by Edward Donovan in 1804, which describes Angelsharks as “Truly formidable...among the ancients it was in great esteem as an article of food; they considered it one of the most delicate of the cartilaginous tribe...Romans formerly made use of the skin to polish their wood and ivory”

The second written by Herbert Edward Forrest (1907) describing Angelshark presence in Wales “frequently met with it off Aberffraw...from Barmouth...not uncommon in the Menai Straits, Colwyn Bay and along the north coast”

Old photograph of a fisherman with an Angelshark
The Angelshark (Squatina squatina) is one of the most Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered sharks in the world; once widespread across the Eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean Sea, it now only remains in a few scattered strongholds. At the time of reading, I had spent three years driving forward Angelshark conservation and research in the Canary Islands as part of the Angel Shark Project (a collaboration between ZSL, ULPGC & ZFMK). After discovering these texts (and a number more after Ann had fully delved into the historic collections), I realised there was huge potential to better understand this species closer to home, in Wales, by combining historical research with active conservation.

We joined forces with Natural Resources Wales and together launched Angel Shark Project: Wales in June 2018, kindly funded by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund and Welsh Government. 

A major part of this project starts today – working with coastal communities across Wales to unlock historical records and memories of the species through the Angelshark History Roadshow! Angelsharks are still very rare in Welsh waters, so gathering old photographs and memories of when Angelsharks used to be caught is vital to better understand and safeguard this species today. Each record is like gold dust, so we need your help to discover the story of this rare shark and its Welsh connection! You can help the project in the following ways:

  • Share your Angelshark stories, memories or photos.

  • Volunteer with our History of Angels research project, to unearth clues in local libraries, archives and museums.

  • Join the Angelshark History Roadshow as it travels around Wales from January-March 2019.

  • Take part in Men’s Sheds 2019 Angelshark Challenge

Contact us if you want to take part: or 07918 361828


Find out more about Angel Shark Project: Wales


Angel Shark Project: Wales is led by ZSL and Natural Resources Wales, but is working alongside 13 partner organisations. The Historical Subgroup is made up of the following organisations:

Logos for People’s Collection Wales, National Waterfront Museum, Ageing Well in Wales, Mens Sheds Cymru

Books mentioned in this blog:

  • Donovan 1804 
  • Forrest 1907

Explore ZSL Library collection further by visiting us or using our online catalogue 

Logos for the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Welsh Government

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