Project status
River Thames, London

Sharks in the Thames

The Thames estuary is known to be home to at least five different species of shark, including the Critically Endangered tope shark (or ‘soupfin’ shark) and starry smoothhound sharks. Tope and starry smoothhound give birth to live young and it is believed they use the estuary as pupping grounds and nursery habitats for their young. There is still little known about how exactly these sharks use the Thames estuary and why. We are working together with anglers to better understand the importance of the Thames estuary to these animals and to ensure their long-term survival in the wild.  

Sharks in the Thames

Tope shark facts  (Galeorhinus galeus) 

  • The only shark in the genus Galeorhinus   

  • Also known as the School Shark, Soupfin Shark, Snapper Shark, and the Vitamin Shark.  

  • Historically caught for ‘liver oil’.   

  • Critically Endangered globally on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.  

  • Can grow up to 190 cm long and live for over 50 years.   

  • Mature between 10 to 17 years old and only give birth to pups every two to three years. It has recently been discovered that they return to the same spot every three years as part of their reproductive cycle.    

  • Highly migratory - moving towards to poles in the summer to pup and towards the equators in winter   

  • A tope that was tagged in Scotland turned up over 5 years later in Sicily in the Mediterranean.  

  • Adult tope feed on cephalopods and pelagic fishes, while juvenile tope prefer to feed on benthic invertebrates.  

 Starry Smoothhound shark facts (Mustelus asterias)  

  • Commonly referred to as ‘Hound Sharks’  

  • Starry smoothhound is listed by the IUCN red list as Near Threatened – meaning that their population trend is decreasing and one step away from being vulnerable to extinction.    

  • Smaller sharks with a maximum size of 140 cm.  

  • Normally have a scattering of small, bright white spots along their back, which give them their name of ‘starry’.   

  • Through genetic studies, it has been shown that they are the only species of smoothhound in our waters   

  • Found at depths of up to 200 metres and feeds almost exclusively on crustaceans  

  • Offspring from 3 different fathers have been found in a single litter  

  • Understudied shark with limited data but increasing commercial interest.  

Spurdog shark facts (Squalus acanthias)  

  • Also known as the Spiny Dogfish, Cape Shark, or Piked Dogfish.   

  • They have sharp spines in front of their first and second dorsal fins.   

  • Lives on the continental shelf of temperate seas worldwide, including the Northeast Atlantic.  

  • Can inhabit deeper waters up to 900m, but usually found in waters shallower than 200m.  

  • They are a schooling shark with gestation periods of up to 24 months and a long generation time of up to 40 years, which makes it vulnerable to overfishing.  

Spurdog shark in the Thames

Restoring aquatic ecosystems

  • Native oyster close up
    Restoring native wildlife

    Restored oysters support marine life

    We find over 27,000 marine animals living among our native oyster nurseries – indicating that our restoration project is helping restore ecosystems.

  • Birds flying mangrove forest island
    Restoring ecosystems


    Our projects in the Philippines have restored and protected over 900 hectares of abandoned fishpond mangroves - around the size of 1,260 football pitches.

  • Sperm whale in the Wash
    Understanding strandings

    UK Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme (CSIP)

    The Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme (CSIP) coordinates the investigation of all cetaceans, marine turtles and basking sharks that strand around the UK coastline. 

  • Chinese giant salamander health check at London Zoo
    Creating a new future for an ancient species

    Chinese giant salamander conservation

    Together with our partners, we completed the largest ever wildlife survey in Chinese conservation history, and discovered just 24 giant salamanders, all of which were likely escapees from farms.

  • Chris examining star fish
    Into the deep

    Benthic Habitats of West Greenland

    Exploring the benthic habitats of the continental shelf of West Greenland to examine the impact of the shrimp trawl fishery.

  • Fairy tern from New Zealand landing on beach.
    New Zealand’s rarest indigenous breeding bird

    Fairy tern conservation

    Creating a route to recovery for New Zealand’s rarest indigenous breeding bird. Each potential loss is vital, with fewer than 40 individuals remaining and just 9 breeding pairs left.

  • Atlantic sturgeon, UK native species
    Five metre British giants

    UK sturgeon

    The UK is home to 2 native species of sturgeon, the Atlantic (Acipenser oxyrinchus) and European sturgeon (Acipenser sturio). These species can reach up to 5m long and can live for over 60 years! 

  • Mountain chicken frog sitting on forest floor

    Mountain chicken frog conservation

    Creating routes to recovery through cutting-edge scientific research and breeding at London Zoo.

Native wildlife conservation

Discover more about our work across the UK, whether surveying sharks, reintroducing dormouse, or supporting hedgehogs.