At Deep Sea World, we understand how important conservation is. Sadly, as a result of pollution, littering, overfishing, and the changing climate, many sea creatures are threatened in seas around the world.
We’re taking steps to conserve some of the most endangered of sea creatures, by taking part in breeding projects and by working closely with academics. As we learn more about marine life each day, we can ensure that the aquarium is doing everything in its power to protect the sea creatures we house, as well as those native to local shores.
We have been part of two major ongoing conservation projects: an angel shark breeding project, and coral reef conservation. Find out more about how we have helped to conserve these important sea creatures.
Our collaborative project with Blue Reef Aquarium Hastings involves the only captive mature angel sharks (squatina squatina) in the UK. The breeding project started in 2002, when we transported one of our two male sharks to Blue Reef Aquarium Hastings, which at the time held a female angel shark. According to the American Elasmobranch Survey of 2008, only four adult angel sharks of this species were held by UK aquaria. Thus, the project has been vital to the future of these sharks in the wild, particularly in UK waters.
There are 16 different species of angel sharks found around the world. Historically, the angel shark particular to our project has inhabited the temperate waters of the north-eastern Atlantic, from southern Norway and Sweden to the Western Sahara and the Canary Islands (including around the British Isles, and in the Mediterranean and Black Seas).
The World Conservation Union’s (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species first classified this shark species as ‘Vulnerable’ in 2000. In 2006, this was sadly further upgraded to ‘Critically Endangered’ around the world, with the species declared ‘Extinct’ in the North Sea.
In 2008, angel sharks were given additional protection within the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981). This prohibits intentional capture, and makes it mandatory for any of the species to be released without harm if they are caught in fishing nets.
Angel sharks dwell in temperate water along the seabed, at depths of up to 150 metres. As nocturnal creatures, they prefer muddy or sandy bottoms, lying buried under cover of the seabed with only their eyes protruding during the daytime.
Due to this, they are highly vulnerable to being caught as by-catch through trawl fishing, set nets, and bottom longlines. Historically, angel sharks have long been exploited for human consumption, supplying their skin as leather, their flesh for food, and their organs for oil.
It takes angel sharks around 8-12 years to fully mature, reaching up to two metres in length. This slow growth means that very few angel sharks ever reach maturity and breed, resulting in an ever-declining population. Through successful breeding and without human threat, they can live as long as 35 years.
In 2004, a female angel shark was transferred from Blue Reef Aquarium Hastings to Deep Sea World, where she was introduced to the second male within our 4.5 million-litre shark tank. Since then we have recorded both the mating and the breeding behaviour.
We suspected the female was pregnant in April 2007, when she visibly changed shape on her underside. At that point we investigated if it was in fact possible to scan a shark for pregnancy. Two months later, in July, we were able to perform an ultrasound scan, confirming, to our excitement, that she was pregnant. This incident is thought to be the first scanning of an angel shark.
Our initial estimates suggested that the embryo angel sharks were around four months along. The pregnancy of angel sharks typically lasts around 12 months, with the females giving birth to between nine and 20 young, each measuring around 20 to 30 centimetres in length. Unfortunately, the female produced three stillborn pups over a period of several months towards the end of 2007.
In August 2011 we suspected that the female was pregnant again. In November of that year, following veterinary advice, the zoological team at the aquarium examined the female. During this examination, a single premature pup (i.e. an egg sac still attached) was born. In the following weeks, the female was assisted in birthing 18 further pups.
This, as far as we know, is yet another world-first for this particular shark – the world’s first captive-conceived angel shark pups. Following captive-breeding successes in America with the pacific angel shark, this was great news for the species in the UK. Our project has given hope for the future, highlighting that breeding within a captive environment can be successful.
Coral reefs are an important part of the ocean ecosystem, but, sadly, many are under threat from the changing climate, pollution, and damage from ships. We’ve learned a lot about how to keep coral reefs healthy in captivity, in order to provide a sustainable habitat for our tropical fish.
A coral reef is a diverse, living oasis where spectacular marine life thrives. The complex community is home to thousands of fish, lobsters, sea turtles, and many other underwater creatures. Amazingly, coral reefs cover less than one percent of the ocean floor, but the delicate structure of reefs support about 25 percent of all marine life.
Our Research into Coral Reef Conservation
Living corals feature in some of our tropical marine displays, including our Krakatoa exhibit. Through careful research, we’ve learned how to maintain robust captive corals and ensure that the fish who call the reef home stay healthy. This includes the following:
● Introducing the precise use of light needed for photosynthesis
● Offering specialist foods
● Adding advanced filtration technology to mimic conditions that exist in the wild
So far, Deep Sea World aquarists have propagated more than 30 coral species, and regularly ship colonies to other public aquariums throughout the UK.
We also have close links to many local universities and colleges, assisting in various areas of study, with a focus on behavioural studies (enrichment), coral research, and aspects of husbandry (in particular feeding).
These partnerships are beneficial to both the aquarium and the students. The outcome of projects often helps to enhance our own husbandry knowledge, and allows us to endow our expertise throughout the public aquarium community.