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Pacific Angel Shark
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Scientific Name Squatina californica
Conservation Status Near Threatened
Family Chordata
Habitat East Pacific Rim
Food Fish, Squid


The Pacific angelshark, Squatina californica, is a species of angel shark, family Squatinidae, found in the eastern Pacific Ocean from Alaska to the Gulf of California, and from Ecuador to Chile, although those in the Gulf of California and southeastern Pacific may in fact be separate species. The Pacific angelshark inhabits shallow, coastal waters on sandy flats, usually near rocky reefs, kelp forests, or other underwater features. This species resembles other angel sharks in appearance, with a flattened body and greatly enlarged pectoral and pelvic fins. Characteristic features of this shark include a pair of cone-shaped barbels on its snout, angular pectoral fins, and a brown or gray dorsal coloration with many small dark markings. It attains a maximum length of 1.5 m (4.9 ft).

An ambush predator, Pacific angelsharks conceal themselves on the sea floor and wait for approaching prey, primarily bony fishes and squid. Prey are targeted visually and, with a quick upward thrust of the head, snatched in protrusible jaws. Individual sharks actively choose ideal ambush sites, where they remain for several days before moving on to a new one. This species is more active at night than during the day, when it stays buried in sediment and seldom moves.

Pacific angelsharks are found in cold to warm-temperate waters from the southeastern corner of Alaska to the Gulf of California, including the entire Baja peninsula, and are most common off central and southern California. It may also occur from Ecuador to the southern tip of Chile (see taxonomic uncertainty above). This bottom-dwelling shark prefers habitats with soft, flat bottoms close to shore, such as estuaries and bays, and are often found near rocky reefs, submarine canyons, and kelp forests. On occasion, they have been seen swimming 15–91 m (49–300 ft) above the sea floor. Off California, the Pacific angelshark is most common at a depth of 3–45 m (9.8–150 ft), but has been reported from as deep as 205 m (670 ft).

A sedentary ambush predator, the Pacific angelshark feeds mainly on bony fishes, including kelp bass, croakers, flatfishes, damselfishes, mackerels, and sardines. During the winter and early spring, spawning squid are extremely abundant and become the primary source of food.

Although usually sedate and approachable underwater, Pacific angelsharks are quick to bite if touched, captured, or otherwise provoked, and can inflict severe lacerations. Commercial fisheries for this species exist off Baja California and to a lesser extent off California; the meat is considered excellent and is sold fresh or frozen. This species is captured in limited numbers by recreational fishers using hook-and-line, spears, or even by hand, particularly off southern California. It is also taken as bycatch in shrimp trawls operating in the Gulf of California, and processed into fishmeal. The capacity of this species to withstand a focused fishing effort is limited, due to its low rates of reproduction and movement.

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