Larger sharks, including the great white shark, may prey on the angel shark, but the angel shark's real threat is man. Or more specifically, one man, by the name of Michael Wagner. Until the 1970s, angel sharks were thought of as a "junk fish," something that got caught in a fishermen's net by accident. Fishermen threw them back, until Wagner, a seafood processor in California, began to spread the word about the tastiness of the Pacific angel shark.
Wagner's campaign was almost single-handedly responsible for bringing the angel shark to millions of plates. In 1977, only about 366 pounds (166 kilograms) of Pacific angel shark were caught, but by 1984, that had become 700,000 pounds (317,545 kilograms) [source: Monterey Bay Aquarium]. When fishing for this shark reached its peak in 1985 and 1986, about 1.2 million pounds (544,311 kilograms) of sharks were being caught each year [source: Martin].
While this was good news for inventive cooks and shark connoisseurs, it was extremely bad news for angel shark populations, which were nearly decimated when the high fishing rate was combined with their low reproductive rate and slow growth.
Pacific angel sharks typically give birth to litters of about 8 to 13, while other species may have litters of just six or up to 25 [sources: Martin, Awruch et al., Hansen]. The gestation period varies among species but is generally between eight and 10 months. Angel sharks are ovoviviparous, which means that the females carries the eggs, but the eggs hatch inside and the pups are born live. Angel shark pups measure only about 9 inches (23 centimeters) at birth. Adults try to protect the small pups by giving birth in deeper waters [source: Martin]. Still, only about 20 percent of Pacific angel sharks survive to maturity [source: Bester].
Not every angel shark is subject to this kind of fishing, but many angel shark populations have been declining [source: Morey et al.]. In some areas, the fish appears to have vanished completely, but specific numbers are hard to come by. These sharks are listed as "vulnerable" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and some of the fisheries are subject to increased regulation. When not caught, it's estimated that angel sharks live about 25 years [source: Kay].
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More Great Links
- Awruch, C.A., F.L. Lo Nostro, G.M. Somoza, E. Di Giacomo. "Reproductive biology of the angular angel shark Squatina Guggenheim (Chrondrichthyes: Squatinidae) off Patagonia (Argentina, southwestern Atlantic)." Ciencias Marinas. 2008.
- Bester, Cathleen. "Pacific Angel Shark." Florida Museum of Natural History Ichthyology Department. (May 19, 2008) http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/fish/gallery/descript/pacificangelshark/ pacificangelshark.html
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- Dingerkus, Guido. "The Shark Watchers' Guide." Wanderer Books. 1985.
- Grant, Gordon. "A Tough Shark Turns Out to Be One Tasty Tidbit." Los Angeles Times. Aug. 15, 1986.
- Hansen, Chris. "Atlantic Angel Shark." Florida Museum of Natural History Ichthyology Department. (May 19, 2008) http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/fish/Gallery/Descript/AtlanticAngel/ AtlanticAngel.html
- Kay, Jane. "Captive Pacific angel shark born." San Francisco Chronicle. Sept. 18, 2007.
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- Morey, G., Serena, F., Mancusi, C., Fowler, S.L., Dipper, F. and J. Ellis. "Squatina squatina." 2007 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2006. (May 19, 2008) http://www.iucnredlist.org/search/details.php/39332/all
- "Pacific Angel Shark." Monterey Bay Aquarium. (May 19, 2008) http://www.mbayaq.org/efc/living_species/default.asp?hOri=1&inhab=484
- Parker, Steve and Jane. "The Encyclopedia of Sharks." Firefly Books. 2002.
- "Pliny the Elder." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2008. (May 21, 2008) http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/464822/Pliny-the-Elder
- Vogler, R., A.C. Milessi and R.A. Quinones. "Trophic ecology of Squatina guggenheim on the continental shelf off Uruguay and northern Argentina." Journal of Fish Biology. 2003.