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Australian Angel Shark (Squatina australis)

Squatina australis australian angelshark

All images and text on this page are copyright protected: © 2010 Kelvin Aitken.
All rights reserved. Students may use this information for personal research only. Not for commercial use.

Order: Squatiniformes
Family: Squatinidae
Genus: Squatina
Species: australis
Taxonomic name: Squatina australis

The flattened appearance of an angel shark is very similar to that of a ray. Angel sharks have two dorsal fins well back on the body near the tail which has symmetrical lobes. The large pelvic fins protrude out from the body so that they match the contours of the broad pectoral fins. The head and body are flattened, with the skull between the eyes being concave or convex depending on the species. There are 14 species of angel sharks, four of which are found in Australia and ranging in size from 64-160 cm. They are found on all coasts except the far north to a depth of 400 metres. On the west coast of the USA the Pacific Angelshark is the species most often encountered.

Angel sharks are bottom-dwellers that feed mainly on fish and squid but they also eat cuttlefish, crabs and occasionally shelled invertebrates. They have a proportionally greater in-water body weight than other sharks due to their bottom-dwelling lifestyle.

Australian Angels

Four species of angel sharks are endemic to Australia. The most common, the Australian Angel Shark (Squatina australis), is the largest, growing to 1.6 m or more. It is the only species found in shallow water from 2m to150 m deep. Ten to twenty young are born as living, hunting miniatures of their parents. They have a unique spotted pattern on the lower caudal fin and distinctive white edges to the pectoral fins.

All angel sharks capture their prey by ambush. Lying almost invisible beneath a layer of sand or silt, they wait until a hapless victim approaches before engulfing it with lightening speed. Their narrow pointed teeth are ideal for holding prey, most of which is swallowed whole. Tests on the feeding habits of angel sharks have shown that they react to any passing prey, spitting out anything that does not appeal to the appetite. They have complete faith in their camouflage when approached by divers but will inflict a shallow bite if harassed.

Numbers of most species have been greatly reduced by commercial fishing pressure, especially bottom trawlers.


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