Project

Angel of the Canary Islands

Species
  • Sharks
Years funded
  • 2015, 2016
Status
  • Active
Project type
  • Research
Description

Although they grow to be 2.5 metres long, angel sharks are notoriously difficult to spot. They are flat, perfectly camouflaged – and also rare. Eva aims to learn about one of the few remaining populations of these enigmatic creatures.

Angel of the Canary Islands

Eva Meyers

Project leader
About the project leader

When I was a kid my greatest nightmare was being the only survivor of a plane crash in the ocean and being eaten by a shark. What a crazy fear to have. I did not grow up near the ocean and I did not have much to do with marine life. In fact, I was born in Germany and grew up in Bolivia, in the middle of the Andes, far away from the sea. I never thought I would work as a marine scientist. I was more of an artist, a creative person, but I always loved nature. When we...

PROJECT LOCATION : Canary Islands, Spain
Project details

Angel shark project: ecology and distribution in the Canary Islands

Key objective

The key objective of this project is to assess the conservation status of the angel shark Squatina squatina in the Canary Islands by engaging local recreational divers as a source of data. This information should guide future decisions to overcome the main threats this species faces and guide the implementation of effective conservation measures.

Why is this important

Overfishing and high by-catch rates have severely depleted many shark species, including the angel shark. Due to its sensitive biology, the angel shark has a very slow rate of recovery and has therefore been included as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List in 2006. Across its distribution range, the angel shark has been extirpated from many places. Urgent conservation policies require baseline data, including information on the species’ basic ecology and distribution patterns. By taking advantage of the last healthy population of this species worldwide, i.e., those located in the Canary Islands, this project represents a unique opportunity to gain basic ecological knowledge about the angel shark.

Background

The Canary Islands are a unique hotspot in the world where angel sharks seem to have large and stable populations. Nevertheless, these populations face threats such as mortality related to sport fishing and capture by illegal artisanal fisheries. Angel sharks are also an important attraction for the area’s expanding recreational diving tourist industry. Unfortunately, this has concurrently caused an increase in disturbance of the species by recreational divers. Recreational divers, however, also represent a large community of skilled volunteers that can help to increase scientific knowledge about species, such as the angel shark, which are commonly encountered at accessible depths. This source of information has proven to be valuable in numerous elasmobranch studies.

In April 2014, the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria launched a citizen science tool, ePOSEIDON (www.programaposeidon.eu), to monitor marine species in the Canary Islands via an online database. Using this tool, the Angel Shark Project has identified areas of species distribution and aggregation sites across the entire archipelago. Preliminary results have shown that angel sharks have a wider distribution in the archipelago than previously thought. Consequently, the need for more information on the species’ basic ecology, abundance and migratory patterns is essential to assess its conservation status and to implement future management strategies for this species.

This project will use the ePOSEIDON database, coupled with a shark-tagging programme, to further engage the diving community in registering sightings of tagged angel sharks. As a result, this combination of available tools will be a cost-effective method involving local recreational divers in science and raising awareness within the community. The outcomes of this programme will be a pivotal for monitoring trends in the species’ distribution and abundance over large spatial and temporal scales.

Aims & objectives

The aims and objectives of this project are to:

  • Determine the distribution, aggregation sites and breeding patterns of the angel shark across the Canary Islands using an online database tool.
  • Assess the population abundance and structure of this species in the Canary Islands.
  • Identify residency and movement patterns within and between islands via a cost-effective tagging program.
  • Raise public awareness using media platforms to disseminate information within the recreational diving and sport-fishing community about the necessity of avoiding disturbance of this shark species.”