The Pacific angel shark is one of 23 angel sharks, noted for their flattened appearance that makes them resemble skates or rays. These flat sharks have broad pectoral fins and relatively large mouths, which they use to create intense negative pressure (suction) when feeding. Though they resemble rays, angel sharks (and other flat sharks) can be easily distinguished from rays by examination of the pectoral fins. In skates and rays, the pectoral fins are always attached to the head. In angel sharks and other flat sharks, that is never the case.
Pacific angel sharks live on soft bottoms near rocky reefs and kelp forests. Their color patterns and flat bodies allow them to blend in very well with the seafloor, and they are able to pump water over their gills, allowing them to remain perfectly still. Pacific angel sharks are ambush predators that patiently wait for prey species – typically a variety of bony fishes and some small sharks – to swim a bit too close. At that point, they can be quite explosive, lunging at their prey and extending their powerful jaws to create enough suction to swallow their prey whole. Their camouflage also serves as a means to avoid predation, but some large, coastal predators are known to prey on this shark.
This species reproduces via internal fertilization and gives birth to well developed young. Embryos receive their nutrition from a yolk sac, and newly born juveniles are self sufficient predators. They do not receive any further parental care. Pacific angel sharks are slow growing, relatively slow to mature, and do not reach reproductive age until they are approximately 13 years old.
Pacific angel sharks are not generally considered dangerous, but they have been known to bite SCUBA divers when provoked. Their habit of remaining perfectly still makes them easy to touch, and divers sometimes grab them. The natural defense mechanism is to strike when threatened, but the bites are not generally severe. This shark is targeted directly and is captured in fisheries targeting other species. It is currently being overfished, and scientists consider it to be near threatened with extinction. Several other species of angelshark are worse off, considered either endangered (highly vulnerable to extinction) or critically endangered (very highly vulnerable to extinction). The group, in general, is now one of the most at risk groups of sharks on the planet. Without careful management of the human activities that affect these interesting, flat sharks, populations may continue to decline, perhaps to a species-threatening degree.
Oceana joined forces with Sailors for the Sea, an ocean conservation organization dedicated to educating and engaging the world’s boating community. Sailors for the Sea developed the KELP (Kids Environmental Lesson Plans) program to create the next generation of ocean stewards. Click here or below to download hands-on marine science activities for kids.