Angelsharks, one of the world’s “rarest” sharks, have been discovered by fishermen off the coast of Wales — a promising sign of life for the critically endangered animal.
The flat-bodied sharks, which typically swim along the ocean floor, were most recently spotted in Cardigan Bay off the Welsh coast, in the Bristol Channel (between England and Wales) and near Holyhead, north Wales.
Since the population of the angelshark continues to decline significantly, researchers decided to investigate the group of fisherman’s sighting.
The Zoological Society of London and Natural Resources Wales launched the “Angel Shark Project: Wales” last year in an attempt to raise awareness around the species’ dwindling numbers.
The project encouraged people to make contact with any reported sightings of the elusive sea creature.
On Thursday, the group asked residents to share photos and memories of the endangered species during its first roadshow.
“Angelsharks are important to the marine environment as they are a top predator and are listed as the fifth most evolutionarily distinct and globally endangered shark in the world,” the ZSL explained on its website.
“This represents a distinct branch of the tree of life.”
It also noted that the Welsh coast may be an important home for the species.
Angelsharks used to be fairly common across the Atlantic and Mediterranean seas, but a disrupted habitat, pollution and overfishing have been contributing to their demise.
Scientists hope the recent sightings of the shark will help provide clues around the species’ behaviour and preferred habitat and, in turn, help save the mysterious sharks from extinction.
“If we lose the angelshark, we lose a really important lineage of evolutionary history that we can’t get from any other shark species,” marine biologist Joanna Barker told BBC News.
Ms Barker has studied angelsharks for a while, particularly around the Canary Islands, but she is now starting to investigate their history in Welsh waters.
With recent sightings, Ms Baker said she is curious about which locations the sharks are choosing to call home.
“What we really want to try and understand is what sort of numbers are we talking about and where are their important habitats, because there could be some really critical areas for angelsharks in Wales,” she said.
In order to further study the rare sharks, Ms Barker said researchers will take swabs of the shark’s skin during dives which are scheduled for later this year.
Until then, marine experts hope to gain even more information about the angel sharks from locals, using their photos and stories to help track the movements of the species off the coast of Wales.