ZSL's Project Manager, Marine and Freshwater Conservation Programme, Joanna Barker, introduces Angwen - a life-sized Angelshark model - and explains its importance.
Some of the best projects I’ve worked on at ZSL focus on collaboration – bringing people together from a range of backgrounds to find solutions to a problem. Over the last couple of months, we’ve been working with NatureBytes, an innovative start-up focused on re-connecting people with wildlife, to create a life sized Angelshark model.
Why a model of an Angelshark?
The Angel Shark Project: Wales, led by ZSL and Natural Resources Wales, was launched in June this year to safeguard one of the world’s rarest sharks, the Angelshark (Squatina squatina) through fisher-participation, heritage and citizen science. Focusing on five core areas around the Welsh coast, we hope to gather historical and current records of the Critically Endangered Angelshark to better understand and safeguard this fascinating species in Welsh waters.
There are three major issues we have to overcome when working on this rare marine species:
- Only a handful of people in Wales would have been lucky enough to see an Angelshark – it is difficult to communicate the importance of better understanding a species when most people you talk to haven’t seen one!
- Very little is known about the Angelshark population in Wales: we don’t know how many individuals are found in Wales, where their favourite habitats are, whether they stay in the region all year round or how the population has changed over the last few decades.
- In some parts of Wales, Angelshark were often referred to as “monkfish” or “monk”, which is a common name also used for an angler fish species (Lophius piscatorius). This means that historical fisheries Angelshark records may be mis-recorded as monkfish (Lophius piscatorius).
We decided an Angelshark model would be key for our project as it would clearly show the species we are focusing on and help explain the difference between Angelsharks and angler fish. It could also be used to train fishers collaborating with the project to take mucus samples of any Angelshark they accidentally encounter in their normal fishing activity, to gather vital genetic data on the species. This genetic data will be analysed by University of Manchester to help understand whether the Angelshark population in Wales is connected with others in Europe.
How do you make an Angelshark model?
Jon Fidler from Naturebytes explains: “The concept of the shark was first built in 3d software. I spent time analysing photos and videos of angel sharks, to help with recreating an exact life like replica. We then used a number of design techniques, including making the base from digitally cut out of foam using a process called cnc machining. The process cuts away at a big block of foam until you are left with a shape that resembles a shark. We then created the top detail of the shark including the fins eyes and patterning on the back. This was then coloured and assembled to the foam base to bring our shark to life”.
If you want to see what Angwen the Angelshark gets up to over the next two years, check out #AdventuresofAngwen - keep up with wider project news through Facebook and Twitter and follow Naturebytes to see what they make next!
The Angel Shark Project: Wales is made possible through funding awarded by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund, and the Welsh Government.
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