Marine life forms are dominated by presence of the great sharks. These predators-of-the-deep generate a deep influence on the lifespans and behavioral patterns of creatures that co-inhabit the warm waters of the world's temperate and tropical seas. The angel shark is one such gorgeous dweller of the ocean and sea beds. Its broad and flattened body, muscular appearance and dorsal gill slits make it a real visual treat to deep sea divers and marine-bio enthusiasts.
Characteristics and Habitat of Angel Sharks
Angel sharks have inhabited our oceans and seas for millions of years. Today, the genus exhibits an improved anatomy, which is the product of over 400 million years of evolution. There are fifteen different angel shark species currently known and studied by man. The angel shark has large, horizontal pectoral and pelvic fins, generally used for balancing and braking. It has two dorsal fins and unlike others in the genus, the angel shark has a longer caudal fin lower lobe.
Under ideal conditions, the genus grows to a length of 8 ft, weighing around 35 kg. The skin color varies from gray to reddish brown or greenish brown, with scattered spots. The young ones exhibit net-like markings, with dark blotches. The angel shark has whisker-like projections or nasal barbels near the nostrils. These projections help the shark to taste and feel. Its large eyes have vertically slit pupils that offer the predator an all-round vision, for an almost perfect ambush every time.
Its extensible jaws are lined with long, needle-like teeth that snap rapidly in the upward direction. The Angel shark is nocturnal. It spends most of the day buried in the sea-bed, with only its eyes protruding. It manipulates a position that allows it to dart forward at a startling speed to devour prey. These amazingly beautiful creatures feast of passing fish, croakers, flounder, mollusks, squid and crustaceans.
The angel shark is ovoviviparous. The litters rarely exceed a dozen pups at a time. The female angel shark retains the eggs inside the body, till they are ready to hatch. After a gestation period of around ten months, the female gives birth to pups not more than 30 centimeters in length. The genus is not normally aggressive, but if interfered with, the angel shark does snap and bite.
The shark normally inhabits the sandy sea-bed, but it is also sighted offshore, in the bays along Norway, Mauritania, the Canary Islands, Mediterranean Sea, Black Sea, Alaska, Gulf of California and Costa Rica. It is regularly seen along kelp forest fringes. Its flat body, olive colored blotches, and flat pectoral fins provide the angel shark with a perfect camouflage on the ocean and sea beds.
Interesting Facts about Angel Sharks
- This type of shark exhibits a social behavior that is pretty conservative in contrast to its inherent predatory nature. It is docile on contact and prefers to eat alone.
- Angel sharks don't resemble other sharks. They look more like skates or rays, with their pectoral fins spread out on either side like angel wings. Their physical anatomy is the same as a shark, but somehow managed to get flattened somewhere down the evolutionary line.
- Angel sharks have incredibly sharp teeth and are not afraid to use them on unsuspecting victims who lure near their vicinity, hence the ironic name of Sand Devil. If a diver exposes it completely by fanning the sand away from an angel shark's back, it is still reluctant to move. An angel shark is known to lie in wait for over a week until the right food passes by!
- The Japanese angel shark, which reaches 2 meters (6 feet) long is known to be the largest angel shark. It is hunted for food and was also used to make shark skin sandpaper. Baring one species which prefers to inhabit deep waters of up to 4,200 feet, most angel sharks tend to live in shallow temperate and tropical seas all over the world.
The angel shark is migratory. It is observed to prefer the northern waters during the summer months. Even though larger sharks like the great white shark will prey upon the angel shark, unfortunately man is its greatest enemy. Since 1978 the commercial interest in fishing of angel sharks went through the roof due to the marketing of this shark species as a heavenly delicacy.
By 1986 about 2 million sharks were caught, this along with slow growth rate has pushed the angel shark on the verge of extinction. Research and conservation measures are now being implemented to assure the survival of the unusual and distinctive shark genus. Projects such as 'Save Our Seas', 'Aware' and 'The Shark Trust' are committed to the conservation of these enigmatic creatures that enrich marine fauna.