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Marine Animal Encyclopedia

Pacific Angel Shark Squatina californica

Resembling something between a squashed shark and a ray, the Pacific angel shark spends most of its time lying quietly on the seabed. Its sandy or gray back, peppered with dark spots and scattered dark rings, provides good camouflage. Though superficially similar to a ray, this fish is marked out as a true shark by the gill slits on the side of its head, while rays have their gills underneath. It draws water in through large, paired holes called spiracles behind its eyes and pumps it over the gills. Rearing up like a cobra, the Pacific angel shark ambushes passing fish including halibut, croakers, and other bottom-dwellers. It has also been known to snap at divers and fishermen who have provoked it. At night, it swims for short distances above the seabed, sculling along with its tail. Females give birth to litters of six to ten pups after a gestation of nine to ten months. Young fish do not mature until they are at least ten years old and can live until they are 35 years old. This fish used to be abundant in the waters off California until intense fishing caused a population collapse in the 1990s. A gill net ban ended the fishery. This shark is categorized as Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List of endangered species.

Pacific Angel Sharkzoom image
  • Order Squatiniformes
  • Length Up to 5 ft (1.5 m)
  • Weight Up to 60 lb (27 kg)
  • Depth Typically 0–1,000 ft (0–300 m), up to 610 ft (185 m)
  • Distribution Continental shelf of the eastern Pacific
Pacific Angel Shark habitat mapzoom image