Eastern angel shark (Squatina albipunctata)

GenusSquatina (1)
SizeMale length: up to 110 cm (1)
Female length: up to 130 cm (1)
Male weight: up to 8 kg (1)
Female weight: up to 20 kg (1)

The eastern angel shark is classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List (1).

The peculiar-looking eastern angel shark (Squatina albipunctata) resembles a ray more than a shark, due to its largely flattened body, which enables it to lie buried in sediment. The large pectoral and pelvic fins of the eastern angel shark extend out to the side, and also extend along the length of the shark's body. The wing-like shape of these fins gives this species its common name of ‘angel shark’ (2).

The tail of the eastern angel shark bears two small, characteristic dorsal fins, the front one slightly larger than the back. These dorsal fins are set further back on the body than is typical in most other sharks (2).

The eastern angel shark has a broad, blunt snout which bears fleshy barbels, which are used for taste and touch. The eyes are very small, even smaller than the spiracles, and are set on a slightly concave head. This species possesses a small but sharp set of teeth on both the upper and lower jaw (2).

The eastern angel shark’s colouration and markings provide excellent camouflage against the ocean floor. Its upperparts vary in colour from yellow-brown to rich chocolate-brown, and are decorated with brown patches and small white spots with a dark outline. The underside of the body is pale white (2).

The eastern angel shark occurs in waters off eastern Australia, from Victoria north to Cairns in Queensland (2). It is thought to be more abundant in the southern parts of its range (1).

The eastern angel shark is found on the seabed of outer continental shelves and upper slopes. It rests on mud, sand, pebbles and rocks, typically at depths of between 92 and 305 metres. Occasionally, however, it may enter waters as shallow as 60 metres (1) (2).

The eastern angel shark has an unusual and interesting ambush predation strategy. Lying buried in the sediment, it will wait with only its eyes and the top of its head exposed. When prey passes by, the shark lunges forward to grab it. The diet of the eastern angel shark includes octopus, cuttlefish, smaller sharks, skates and rays, and various species of bottom-dwelling and mid-water fish (2).

Male eastern angel sharks reach sexual maturity at a length of about 91 centimetres, while females reach maturity at 107 centimetres. The mating season is from late winter to late summer, and the gestation period lasts 8 to 12 months, after which the female gives birth to a litter of 10 to 15 live young. The eastern angel shark is ovoviviparous, meaning that the eggs develop and hatch inside the female (2).

The lifespan of the eastern angel shark is unknown, but is believed to be longer than 20 years (2).

The eastern angel shark is particularly susceptible to a commercial fishing method known as trawling, whereby huge nets are dragged across the ocean floor. As the eastern angel shark is a bottom dweller, it often gets caught in the nets as bycatch (1).

Trawling mainly threatens eastern angel shark populations in the southern parts of its range. In recent decades, a 96 percent decline in eastern angel shark catch size has been documented, indicating a decline in the eastern angel shark population. However, populations in the northern parts of the eastern angel shark’s range do not face such threats, as large areas in this region remain un-trawled. When caught, the flesh of the eastern angel shark is sold for consumption (1).

There are currently no direct conservation measures in place for the eastern angel shark. However, it does occur in some protected areas, and large areas in the northern part of its range are not trawled (1). For example, within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, trawling is only permitted within a very small area (3).

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  1. IUCN Red List (June, 2011)
  2. Parker, S.P. (2008) The Encyclopedia of Sharks. Quintet Publishing Limited, London, UK.
  3. Australian Government: Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (June, 2011)