Angel Shark Project

Angel shark in the Canary Islands

Why we are there

Three species of angel shark were once widespread throughout the Eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean Sea. Following decades of decline, these slow-growing and late-maturing species are likely no longer present along much of the coastal shelf of Europe. However, the Canary Islands have been identified as a unique stronghold for one species, the Angelshark (Squatina squatina), where it is still regularly sighted. 

Even in their last stronghold Angelsharks are under significant threat. In 2015, all three angel shark species were assessed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and the angel shark family has been identified as the second most threatened family of sharks and ray in the world.

Angel Shark Project

ZSL, Universidad de Las Palmas de Gran Canaria (ULPGC) and Zoological Research Museum Alexander Koenig  (ZMFK) set up the Angel Shark Project in 2013, with the aim to secure the future of Critically Endangered angel sharks throughout their range. 

The Angel Shark Project is an interdisciplinary programme that collects ecological and population data whilst engaging with local communities, researchers and government to raise awareness and deliver conservation action. We focus on five key areas that have been prioritised to achieve our goal:

  1. Understanding the biology and behaviour of angel sharks through collecting observations, tagging and genetic research.
  2. Reducing mortality and disturbance of angel sharks by working with key stakeholders.
  3. Raising awareness of the importance of the Canary Islands for angel shark conservation with the local population, expatriate population and tourists in the archipelago.
  4. Providing evidence for and driving legislative change with local authorities and governments.
  5. Delivering Europe-wide conservation initiatives through a developed Angel Shark Conservation Network.

Find out more about the Angel Shark Project and meet the team (the video is in Spanish and English): 

Action plan and conservation strategy 

In 2016, two Angel Shark Conservation Workshops were completed to identify the key actions needed to overcome the major threats to angel shark populations. Stakeholder representatives from all sectors attended the workshops to develop two key documents: the Angelshark Action Plan for the Canary Islands and Eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean Angel Shark Conservation Strategy.

The Action Plan identifies the objectives and activities needed to achieve our Vision that Angelsharks in the Canary Islands are abundant and protected in their unique stronghold. The Strategy provides a framework for improved protection of the three Critically Endangered angel sharks present across the wider range. Find out more on the Angel Shark Conservation Network and sign up to receive updates

Public sightings of angel sharks 

The collection of public sightings of angel sharks is vital to identify important habitats for these species e.g. nursery and foraging areas, and also answer basic ecological questions, such as when the breeding season is. Check out the first results here. Our interactive map provides a quick way for divers, fishers or other stakeholders to report their angel shark sighting across the Eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean Sea. Please report your Angelshark sightings.  

Angel Shark. Carlos Suarez, Oceanos de Fuego
Angel Shark

Working with sportfishers in the Canary Islands

Angelsharks in the Canary Islands are under threat from lethal handling techniques used by the rapidly expanding sportfishing community (e.g. gaffing and long periods out of water). Starting in 2015, the Angel Shark Project is working closely with sportfishers in Gran Canaria, Tenerife and Fuerteventura to explain how small changes in handling practice can improve Angelshark survival. Together we have developed a PDF icon Best practice guide to catch and release (2.47 MB) - look out for the charter fishing boats who display this guide on their boats.

Welsh Angelshark Conservation

We have teamed up with Natural Resources Wales to better understand and conserve Angelsharks in Welsh waters. We’re asking fishers across the region to report any accidental captures of Angelsharks to our sightings map, to better understand Angelshark distribution. In addition, we’re working with fishers to explain how to handle and release Angelsharks so that they safely return to the water unharmed. Read more about our work

Angelshark Tagging

In April 2015, we developed a protocol for tagging Angelsharks with visual ID tags and taking genetic samples. We have since completed tagging expeditions in Gran Canaria, Lanzarote, Fuerteventura and Tenerife to understand Angelshark movement and the genetic samples are currently being analysed to understand population connectivity. The tagging project is closely linked to our citizen science sightings, so that divers and fishers can report sightings of tagged Angelsharks

In 2018, we are expanding our tagging work by completing the first acoustic tagging study of Angelsharks to improve understanding of habitat use, movement and site fidelity. The initial phase of this project is to develop a non-invasive, ethically approved, external electronic tag attachment methodology for Angelsharks. Following a workshop in October 2017 (attended by Angel Shark Project partners, Arribada Initiative, Centre for Environment Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas), Institute of Zoology and IRNAS) a bespoke tag attachment is being developed and tested. Find out more here.

Nursery Ground Surveys

The Angel Shark Project is completing research at an important Angelshark nursery ground in Tenerife using a mark-recapture study. This technique will help us understand population size and structure as well as estimating the spatial distribution and habitat use of juvenile Angelsharks. Find out more here.

In addition, we are completing surveys across the archipelago to identify other Angelshark nursery grounds and investigate their environmental characteristics. This information will be used to ensure that the most important habitats for Angelsharks are not compromised.

Angel Shark Project logo 2016

Public sightings of Angelsharks

Spotted an Angelshark? Report it

Project information

PDF icon Angelshark Action Plan for the Canary Islands (2.52 MB)

PDF icon Eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean Angel Shark Conservation Strategy (7.99 MB)

PDF icon Eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean Angel Shark Conservation Strategy (7.99 MB)


ZSL and Natural Resources Wales are working with fishermen to learn more about the Angelshark population along the coast of Wales. Download the information sheet: 

PDF icon Angelshark fisher information sheet - English (3.84 MB)

PDF icon Angelshark fisher information sheet - Welsh (3.79 MB)


Key species

  • Angelshark (Squatina squatina)
  • Smoothback Angelshark (Squatina oculata)
  • Sawback Angelshark (Squatina aculeata)

People involved

  • Joanna Barker (ZSL) - Co-lead of the Angel Shark Project
  • David Jiménez Alvarado (ULPGC) - Co-lead of the Angel Shark Project
  • Eva Meyers (ZFMK) - Co-lead of the Angel Shark Project
  • David Jacoby (Institute of Zoology) - Postdoctoral Researcher focusing on acoustic telemetry
  • Matt Gollock (ZSL) - Advisor
  • José J Castro (ULPGC) - Advisor 

Partners

  • Universidad de Las Palmas de Gran Canaria
  • Zoological Research Museum Alexander Koenig
  • IUCN Shark Specialist Group
  • Shark Trust
  • Submon 
  • Natural Resources Wales
  • Centre for Environment Fisheries and Aquaculture Science
  • IRNAS

Kindly funded by:

  • Disney Conservation Fund
  • Save Our Seas Foundation
  • Global Partnership for Sharks and Rays
  • Arribada Initiative
  • National Geographic
  • Lisbon Oceanarium
  • Natural Resources Wales 
  • Deutsche Elasmobranchier-Gesellschaft
  • CRESSI