This collaborative project between Deep Sea World, Fife and Hastings Blue Reef Aquarium involves the only captive mature Angel Sharks (Squatina squatina) in the UK. The project started in 2002 when Deep Sea World transported one of our two male sharks to Hastings, who at the time held the female. There are only 4 adult Angel Sharks of this species held by UK aquaria (American Elasmobranch Survey 2008). This project is vital given the status of this species in the wild, particularly in UK waters.
There are 16 different species of angel sharks found around the world. Historically, this particular angel shark has occurred in 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 Unions (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species first described this shark species as Vulnerable in 2000. In 2006 this was further upgraded to Critically Endangered. At the same time this species was also declared extinct in the North Sea. In 2008 they were afforded additional protection, within the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981). This essentially prohibits intentional capture, and makes mandatory that any by-catch is released without harm.
In 2004, the female shark was transferred from 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 mating and breeding behaviour. In the April of 2007 we suspected that the female may be pregnant, when she visibly changed shape underneath. At that point it was investigated if it was in fact possible to scan a shark for pregnancy. In July 2007 we performed an ultrasound scan and confirmed that she was actually pregnant. This is thought to be the first scanning of an Angel Shark. Initial estimates put the age of the babies at around 4 months. The babies are born after almost 12 months and are around 20-30cm at birth. Angel Sharks have been known to give birth to between 9 – 20 young. Unfortunately for the female she later produced 3 stillborn pups over a period of several months towards the end of 2007. In August 2011 it was again suspected that the female may be pregnant. In November 2011 following veterinary advise the zoological team examined the female. During this examination a single premature (ie: egg sac still attached) pup was born. In the weeks to come the female was assisted in producing 18 further pups. This we believe is yet another world first for this particular shark – the worlds first captive conceived pups. This is great news for these sharks as it follows captive breeding successes in America with the Pacific Angel shark. It at the very least highlights the potential to successfully breed pups within the captive environment.
This angel shark is a temperate water bottom dwelling species found on the sea bed at depths of up to 150m. The shark prefers muddy or sandy bottoms where it lies buried with only its eyes protruding. They can grow to almost 2m in length. Angel sharks are highly vulnerable to being caught as by-catch through bottom trawls, set nets and bottom long lines. Angel sharks historically have also been used both fresh and dried salted for human consumption, and in the production of oil and fishmeal. They grow very slowly and mature only at a large size, at around 8-12 years of age. The result is that very few angel sharks reach maturity and breed resulting in an ever declining population. They can live for as long as 35 years.
A coral reef is a diverse living oasis where spectacular marine life thrives. But this complex community is threatened by changing ocean chemistry, warmer seas, land based pollution, damage from ships and collection by the curio and aquarium trade. Coral reefs are home to thousands of fish, lobsters, sea turtles and other creatures that rely on the delicate reef structure. Coral reefs cover less thank 1 percent of the ocean floor but support about 25 percent of all marine life. Living corals form part of some of our tropical marine exhibits, including Coral Reef, Clownfish and Seahorse exhibits. We’ve learned a lot about how to keep captive corals healthy through precise use of light (for photosynthesis),specialist foods and advanced filtration technology to try to mimic conditions that exist in the wild, keeping everything in balance. So far Deep Sea World Aquarists have propagated more than 30 coral species and regularly ship colonies to other public aquariums throughout the UK.
With close links to many local University and colleges. Deep Sea World has assisted many areas of study with a focus on behavioral studies (enrichment), coral research or aspects of husbandry in particular feeding. This partnership is beneficial to both ourselves and the students, with the outcome of projects often resulting in changes to incorporate their findings into advancing our own husbandry knowledge and shared throughout the public aquarium community.