Guardian Angels

  • Sharks
Years funded
  • 2023
  • Active
Project type
  • Research
  • Guardian Angels Film

Danny believes in the power of storytelling to shine a light on angel sharks, to start conversations, unlock historical knowledge archived in the coastal communities of the Mediterranean and East Atlantic region and even impact management decisions. He wants to contribute to the conservation of the three angel shark species (of 23 species globally) that are found in the Mediterranean and East Atlantic by telling their story and that of those working to protect them. Danny will be making a long-form film and driving an impact campaign that calls audiences to conservation action.

Guardian Angels

Danny Copeland

Project leader
About the project leader

I have always loved learning about, understanding and experiencing all aspects of the natural world. However, a childhood of rock-pooling the beaches near my home town in North Wales and memories of gazing at fish in aquariums nurtured a particular affinity for life in the ocean. This transformed into more of an obsession once I took my first breaths underwater on scuba gear. During my first sea dive on a family holiday, we encountered a cuttlefish in an otherwise barren harbour in Malta. I often tell people that its crazy patterns and changing colours hypnotised me in some...

Project details

Guardian Angels: Using storytelling through film to aid angel shark conservation

Key objective

The overarching goal of this project is to use storytelling through film to aid the conservation of angel sharks in the East Atlantic and Mediterranean.

Why is this important

Three species of angel shark exist in the East Atlantic and Mediterranean, but decades of intensive bycatch and targeted fishing have decimated their populations. A strategy and several regional action plans have identified the need to raise their profile and exchange knowledge with stakeholders. This is vital to assess the demographics and key habitats of any remaining angel shark populations. However, challenges exist in achieving this efficiently, given the diversity and number of nations within the region. This project will use film to draw more attention to angel sharks and ultimately help start dialogues and access the historical knowledge held within coastal communities, filling in broad data gaps that will inform future conservation management decisions.


The angel sharks are a distinct family of elasmobranchs. Consisting of 23 species, they are characterised by a dorso-ventrally flattened body, mottled appearance, an unusually flexible ‘neck’ and a trap-like jaw. This makes them highly successful ‘lie-and-wait’ ambush hunters that hide on the sea-floor substrate. They can be found in several marine habitats in warm, temperate and tropical coastal waters over continental shelves. These habitat preferences and morphological adaptations have left them highly vulnerable to human impacts, particularly that of fisheries.

As global fishing effort increased in the 20th century, angel sharks were targeted in the East Atlantic and Mediterranean, sought after for their meat, liver and skin. This devastated their populations. Even as targeted fisheries have waned, the remaining angel sharks are easily entangled in large, mesh gill-nets and towed trawling nets, which also damage their preferred habitats. When this is combined with a low reproductive output and presumed slow growth rate, it’s no surprise that angel sharks are the second most endangered elasmobranch family in the world.

Improving our baseline knowledge of angel shark populations can address all these challenges. Existing efforts to collect data from the public need to be intensified and broadened. However, angel sharks are not a well-known group of elasmobranchs. Even among fishers, they are often misidentified. Increasing public knowledge about these animals as efficiently and rapidly as possible will aid data collection as well as wider conservation efforts.

Storytelling through documentary film can deliver impact that leads to changes in legislation and wider behavioural shifts in society. This project will support angel shark conservation by using storytelling through film and an impact campaign to raise the profile of these animals across the East Atlantic and Mediterranean. Ultimately it will create and distribute a powerful media tool to aid in the protection and restoration of these Critically Endangered elasmobranchs.

Aims & objectives
  • To produce a long-form film designed to tell a story that raises the profile of angel sharks and those working to protect them, increases understanding of their threats and motivates audiences to act.
  •  By means of an impact campaign, to disseminate the film to stakeholder communities across five nations in the East Atlantic and Mediterranean that are considered priorities in angel shark conservation efforts. To direct audiences to engage through specific calls to action, while monitoring indicators that quantify impact.
  • To disseminate the film to broader audiences, further raising the profile of angel sharks among the public.