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Invisible Angel Sharks May Soon Be Extinct

You’re a shark. You can make yourself invisible to both your prey and those who wish to prey on you. That should make you not only invisible but invincible, right? Unfortunately, that’s not the case for the angel shark, which is critically endangered around the world except for the waters surrounding the Canary Islands. Now, the species responsible for making the invisible shark nearly disappear for real (that would be humans) is finally taking action to save it.

It was so embarrassing. I was supposed to be the expert, and I was looking and looking for it and pretending, saying ‘yeah, yeah, I’ve seen it’.

Eva Meyers is a world expert on angel sharks and a leader of the Angel Shark Project, which has drawn up the newly announced Angelshark Action Plan for the Canary Islands, and even she can’t spot the invisible creatures. The Plan is a 10-year project to conserve angelsharks (also called angel sharks or Squatina squatina) around the Canary Islands. Meyers needs to be able to see the invisible angel sharks so she can tag them and track their travels to determine how far from the islands they may swim.

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Despite their obvious ability to not be obvious, angel sharks were virtually eliminated from their former habitats in the Eastern Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea by commercial fishing trawlers that caught them in their nets and tossed them as unwanted byproducts. Fortunately, that type of trawling was banned by the Canary Islands in the 1980s, allowing angel fish to survive and thrive there to be unseen by divers and researchers.

Measuring what can't be seen is difficult

Measuring what can’t be seen is difficult

An angel shark’s cloaking ability starts with its skin, which is the same color and pattern of the sandy sea bottom. The sharks further hide by burying their flat bodies in the sand, leaving only their eyes and breathing pores visible. When an unsuspecting fish swims by, the shark quickly raises its front, opens its mouth, grabs the prey and crushes it into an angel shark smoothie for easy consumption. It then swishes with a little sea water, rinses and repeats.

(Yes, the diver disturbed the poor angel shark for the video. This is another reason why they need protection.)

Will the Angelshark Action Plan save the invisible angelshark from extinction? It’s a good plan … at least for around the Canary Islands. Its goals include to:

… focus on the proximate threats of fisheries, habitat and pollution, and human interaction; while a further three goals provide the underlying support to reduce these threats: legislative change, research, and community engagement.

Those sound like good goals for protecting ALL endangered species in ALL area.