Aug 8

As Shark Week continues to float on here in the US, we think it’s the perfect time to shine the spotlight on some of the strangest-looking sharks found on Earth. We all know what the great white shark looks like but have you seen a shark with an ‘executioner’ style hood over its head or one with a beard? Read on to see how many of these bizarre sharks are new to you!

 10. Trendy trim

Photo of leopard shark swimming along sea bed

With a chic patterning of splotches over its body, the leopard shark roams the ocean in the day and night. Despite the fear that all sharks are dangerous, the leopard shark is actually harmless to man and even approachable when it lounges on the sea floor during the day.

 9.  An immense encounter

Photo of whale shark filter feeding, surrounded by other smaller fish

We think this shark merits an appearance on this list just for its sheer size. The largest fish in the sea, the whale shark can weigh up to 13 tons. Perhaps ironically, the biggest fish in the world feeds primarily on some of the smallest organisms, tiny planktonic organisms.

8.  Hard-headed

Photo of kitefin shark swimming

The blunt snout of this species along with its large eyes makes the kitefin shark a perfect addition to our list. The kitefin shark is uniquely ovoviviparous meaning it gives birth to live young instead of laying eggs like most other fish species.

7. Hooded hider

Photo of hooded carpetshark showing spriacle

With a black mask over its head and snout, the hooded carpet shark is said to resemble an eerie ‘executioner’s hood’. The addition of white spots that cover most of its body helps this species to blend into surrounding coral until this nocturnal shark comes to life at night.

6. Wide-eyed wonder

Photo of crocodile shark speciman close up

Check out the blinders on this fish! The crocodile shark is a small slender shark known for its short head and large eyes likely used to hunt effectively at night. Following its prey towards the water surface at night and away during the day, the crocodile shark is an active hunter which enjoys a wide variety of prey including squid, fish, and shrimp.

5. See a saw

Photo of green sawfish swimming

Aptly named, the green sawfish has an elongated snout with over 23 pairs of teeth.  By using this impeccable nozzle, the green sawfish is able to feed on slow-moving fish by clubbing at them with a side of its saw. Cleverly, the green sawfish uses its saw to act as a shovel-like instrument to rake out crustaceans.

4. Face of an angel

Photo of angel shark on the seabed at night

Sometimes mistaken for a large ray due to its appearance, the angel shark has a remarkably flat body and well-placed eyes on the top of its head that are perfect for ambush-style predation. The angel shark is Critically Endangered, likely due to its prevalence in by-catch – the accidental capture of species through standard fishing practices such as trawling. Sadly, this species has been declared extinct in the North Sea.

3. Mega mouth

Photo of basking shark feeding

As the second largest fish in the sea, the basking shark is one to impress. Perhaps a good kisser, the basking shark uses its three-foot-wide mouth to filter feed while it ‘basks’. Not too interested in the social scene, the solitary basking shark is thought to hibernate in deep water.

2. Ancient allure

Photo of filled shark swimming

The frilled shark is one of the most primitive species of living shark. Having perfected its look to have a lizard-like, blunt-ended snout and a very large mouth, the frilled shark possesses an unconventional beauty. Living primarily in the deep-water darkness, this three-foot-long and mysterious beast has had few observations made in its natural environment.

1. Camouflaged charmer

Photo of tasselled wobbegong

Literally meaning ‘well fringed nose with shaggy beard’, the tasselled wobbegong is an exceedingly unusual looking shark. With its branching skin flaps and a lofty lattice-like ‘beard’ the wobbegong’s bristles provide it with a sagacious camouflage and overall appearance. We challenge you to find a weirder-looking shark on ARKive!

Were any sharks on our list new to you? Or do you have a favorite to add to the list? Surf the ARKive site for more sharks and share your favorites in the comments below!

Jade Womack, Education & Outreach Intern, Wildscreen USA

Jul 27
Photo of Balearic shearwater in flight

Balearic shearwater (Puffinus mauretanicus)

Species: Balearic shearwater (Puffinus mauretanicus)

Status: Critically Endangered (CR)

Interesting Fact: Like other shearwaters, the Balearic shearwater is named for its ‘shearing’ flight, in which it flies with stiffly held wings just centimetres above the ocean waves.

Considered to be the most threatened seabird in the Mediterranean, the Balearic shearwater is a medium-sized shearwater which breeds only on the Balearic Islands, in the western Mediterranean Sea. This species spends most of its time out at sea, where it dives into the water to catch fish and squid, using its long, sharp beak to capture its slippery prey. The Balearic shearwater returns to land to breed between February and June, and each pair lays a single large egg, usually in a small cave, cavity or under a boulder. Breeding pairs may remain together for many years. At the end of the breeding season, some Balearic shearwaters migrate northwards to winter in the Bay of Biscay, and may reach as far north as the United Kingdom and Scandinavia.

The main threats to the Balearic shearwater include predation by introduced mammals and entanglement in fishing gear. The breeding habitat of this species is threatened by urbanisation and by introduced rabbits, which compete with the birds for nesting sites, and the Balearic shearwater may also be negatively affected by pollution, oil spills and a reduction in prey abundance. As part of a recovery plan in place for the Balearic shearwater, rats have been eradicated from a number of breeding sites and a number of protected areas have been created. Studies into the species’ biology and populations are also being carried out. Efforts are underway to assess the problem of bycatch in fisheries, and awareness campaigns, together with mitigation measures, will be important in addressing this threat.

Find out more about seabird conservation at the BirdLife International Global Seabird Programme.

You can also read more about UK marine species in our National Marine Week guest blog.

See images of the Balearic shearwater on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

Jul 27

The UK has been experiencing some uncharacteristically hot weather over the last few weeks, so what better time to get out to our beautiful coast? Take this opportunity to find out more about the fantastic diversity of species and habitats we have off our shores, and join in The Wildlife Trusts’ annual National Marine Week! This celebration of all things marine actually runs for more than two weeks, from Saturday 27 July to Sunday 11 August, to make the most of the tides.

Velvet swimming crab image

Velvet swimming crab

We are fortunate in the UK to have an awe-inspiring range of habitats and species around our coasts. From shallow seagrass meadows and kelp forests to gullies and canyons over 2,000 metres deep, these habitats provide homes and feeding grounds for countless species, including colourful sea slugs, charismatic fish such as the tompot blenny, and the bottlenose dolphin, one of 11 species of whale, dolphin and porpoise regularly seen in our waters! Our seas are also home to the second largest fish in the world, the basking shark. This gentle giant can be spotted in the summer as it comes close to the shore, filter feeding micro-organisms.

Basking shark image

Basking shark

All around our coasts, Wildlife Trusts staff and volunteers will be sharing their knowledge, so whether you want to find out more about minke whales or molluscs, velvet swimming crabs or strawberry anemones, breadcrumb sponges or butterfish, and seals or seabirds, there will be events where people can enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of the sea and learn more about its riches.

The Wildlife Trusts hold these events to showcase some of the UK’s marine wildlife, and to educate and enthuse people about this fantastic resource on our doorstep. As well as being a source of wonder, our seas are also a playground, a food supply, a conduit for our imports and exports, and a climate regulator that absorbs vast quantities of greenhouse gases while releasing the oxygen we breathe. We are an island nation, and the sea is a vital part of our national identity.

Jewel anemone image

Jewel anemones

However, the seas are not as productive as they once were. For years, we have taken too much with too little care. Our seas’ resources are not inexhaustible, and their ability to cope with the pressures we put on them – damage from fishing, industrial pollution and the impacts of a changing climate – is limited. Much of our marine wildlife is in decline. Two species of whale and dolphin have become extinct in UK waters in the last 400 years, and basking shark numbers have declined by 95%. Commercial species are also under pressure, and in 2009 the EU Commission declared that 88% of marine fish stocks were overexploited.

Grey seal image

Grey seal

In order to provide better protection for our marine environment, here at The Wildlife Trusts we are campaigning for an ecologically coherent network of Marine Protected Areas – areas that offer protection not just to our most rare and vulnerable species, but to the full range of species and habitats found in the seas.

These areas will protect marine life within their boundaries, and with careful management they can also have an influence beyond these boundaries, as burgeoning populations spill out into the surrounding sea. A well-designed and effectively managed network will help boost the health of the marine environment as a whole, helping it to recover from past impacts and sustain current pressures. Although we have made a start on our network, we still have a long way to go, and at the moment progress towards achieving the network is slow.

The Wildlife Trusts’ National Marine Week and our events provide us with a crucial opportunity to highlight the need to continue to put pressure on UK Governments to ensure that this vital ambition is achieved. It offers countless opportunities for people to savour the seaside and find out so much more about what our coasts have to offer. Why not head over to The Wildlife Trusts’ marine wildlife weeks page to find an event near you!

Ali Plummer, Living Seas Officer for The Wildlife Trusts

Jun 22
Photo of leaf-scaled sea snake

Leaf-scaled sea snake (Aipysurus foliosquama)

Species: Leaf-scaled sea snake (Aipysurus foliosquama)

Status: Critically Endangered (CR)

Interesting Fact: The leaf-scaled sea snake is able to remain underwater for up to two hours before resurfacing for air.

Named for the characteristic leaf-like shape of its scales, the leaf-scaled sea snake is a relatively small snake which spends its entire life at sea. Like other sea snakes, it shows a number of adaptations to its aquatic lifestyle, including a flattened, paddle-like tail for swimming, valves in the nostrils which prevent water entering the lung, and a gland under the tongue which excretes excess salt from the body. The leaf-scaled sea snake lives in shallow waters and gives birth to live young. It feeds on small coral reef fish, which it immobilises with its venom.

The leaf-scaled sea snake has one of the most restricted ranges of any sea snake, occurring in just two reefs in the Timor Sea, and occasionally being seen off the northwest coast of Australia. This species was once one of the most commonly seen sea snakes in its range, but has not been recorded in surveys since 2001. The exact reasons for this are unclear, but could be to do with rising sea temperatures and the degradation of its reef habitat, which in turn reduces prey availability. All sea snakes are legally protected in Australia, and measures are underway to monitor and reduce any impacts of fisheries on sea snake species. One of the reefs the leaf-scaled sea snake inhabits is a nature reserve, but unfortunately none of the habitat management plans for this area specifically target this rare marine reptile.

 

Find out more about sea snakes at IUCN – Sea snakes.

See images of the leaf-scaled sea snake on ARKive.

Find out more about other sea snake species on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

Jun 18

Manta ray photoWhile the oceans of our planet cover more than 70% of the Earth’s surface, we still know so little about what goes on beneath the waves.  There are vast areas, great depths and even hundreds or perhaps thousands of species that we still barely understand.  Manta rays can certainly be classed as one such species that we know little about and that is why in January 2012, The Manta Trust came into being; a UK registered charity aiming to improve our understanding of these animals and promote their long-term conservation.

What is the Manta Trust?

Manta Trust LogoThe Manta Trust is a growing group of scientists, photographers, film-makers, conservations and advocacy experts who have joined forces to co-ordinate global research and conservation efforts for both manta rays and their close cousin’s, the mobula rays.

Manta ray photoThese rays are among the most charismatic creatures that inhabit our oceans. With the largest brain of all fish, their intelligence and curiosity is often compared to that of a large mammal, making encounters with them a truly unforgettable experience.

However, despite their popularity with divers and snorkelers many aspects of these creature’s lives remain a mystery, with only snippets of their life history currently understood. More worryingly, in recent years a targeted fishery for these animals has developed, causing devastating declines in global manta ray populations.

The Manta Trust brings together a number of research projects from around the globe. By conducting long-term, robust studies into manta populations in these varying locations, we aim to build the solid foundations upon which governments, NGOs and conservationists can make informed and effective decisions to ensure the long term survival of these animals and their habitat. By coupling this research with educational programmes and raising awareness, we hope to be able to make a lasting difference to the future of our oceans.

What are manta rays?

Manta and mobula rays are cartilaginous elasmobranch fishes. Like other rays this means they are a close relative of the shark. However, unlike most rays which spend at least a portion of their lives hugging the seabed, mobulids live pelagic existences – meaning they spend their time swimming in open water.

They’re also completely harmless to humans, feeding on zooplankton, the often microscopic animals which live in the water column and are the base of many ocean food chains.  This food source means that these amazing rays are at the mercy of the oceans, often migrating thousands of kilometres to track down their next meal!

Manta ray photo

Manta rays are also the largest rays in the world.  There are two species of manta, the reef mantas and the larger oceanic mantas that grow to over 7m diameter from wingtip to wingtip.

We believe manta rays to be incredibly long lived, probably living to at least 50 years old or possibly longer! This characteristic, coupled with the fact that they mature late, reproduce infrequently and give birth usually to a single pup at a time, make them very vulnerable to exploitation by fisheries.

Are there any threats to mantas?

Gill plate photoUnfortunately yes, manta and mobula rays are fished for their gill plates, the intricate apparatus which helps them to both breathe underwater and to strain their microscopic planktonic food from the water.

This fishery is quite a recent development, with the gill plates being sold in Asian markets where they are prepared as a tonic to treat a variety of ailments.

Due to the vulnerable nature of these animals this has the potential to have catastrophic implications for their fragile populations.  In fact populations in some areas have already seen declines of up to 86% due to fisheries.

Where does the Manta Trust work?

One of the main aims of the Manta Trust is to unite and co-ordinate work being undertaken with these rays in all corners of the globe.  So far we are working in 17 countries!  By co-ordinating our research in this way the hope is that we can share in each other’s successes (and failures), learning what works and what doesn’t, ultimately achieving global successes for these species.

What does the Manta Trust want to achieve?

Our vision is “A sustainable future for the oceans where manta rays thrive in healthy, diverse marine ecosystems.”  We’d like to achieve this by conducting robust scientific research whilst educating and raising awareness of the issues which face these animals.

We know that good conservation requires a holistic approach. Therefore the Manta Trust researchers and volunteers work closely with tourists, local communities, businesses and governments to ensure the preservation of these amazing animals through a combination of good science, education, community based initiatives and government legislation. As the scope of the Trust’s work continues to grow our goal is to keep expanding these efforts globally.

In March 2013, the Manta Trust was part of a consortium of NGOs behind the successful listing of both species of manta ray on Appendix II of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora).  This listing means trade in manta ray parts between the 178 signatory nations will be closely controlled and restricted when this legislation comes into force in September 2014.

Manta Trust photo

This is a huge victory, however much still needs to be achieved for these animals until this legislation comes into force, especially to aid those in the involved fishing industry to transition to more sustainable futures.

How can you help The Manta Trust?

Manta ray photoOne of the best ways you can help is to swim with mantas! By showing governments that manta-based tourism is important and that it provides a sustainable long term industry in which people can earn a living whilst co-existing with these animals, we will be taking positive steps towards long-term solutions for these rays.

If you’ve been lucky enough to swim with mantas why not send us your pictures?  Each manta is uniquely identifiable by the pattern of spots on their ventral (belly) surface.  We are collating manta images from around the world as part of our global IDtheManta database.

You can learn more about it here.  By collecting this information on a global scale we hope to learn more about these amazing and mysterious animals.

We also accept volunteers! Check out our Volunteer page on The Manta Trust website and follow us on Facebook to see the latest opportunities as they are announced. In fact following our work on our blog, website, Facebook and Twitter pages and sharing what we do with your friends is also an amazing way to spread the manta message!

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