Sharks off the north Wales coast

The waters off north Wales in the Celtic sea are some of the richest in the world with marine life. Sharks, compose a great deal of those species and travel for thousands of miles travel here each season to visit our coastline to feed and lay their young. The varieties of species of shark that visit north Wales waters is staggering, from Basking sharks, to Smooth hounds, to Mako sharks we have it all here. The come all the way from  deep waters in the Atlantic to feed on crab and fish here, which are plentiful. The migratory cycles of these species are fascinating, and the huge distances the travel each year, returning to the same spots to pup season after season, is simply amazing.

You don’t see most of these species very often unless your a diver or fisherman to be honest. You may see the occasional basking shark but that would be it, so it’s rather crazy to imagine that there are so many of these species, that just cruise of our coast feasting on the rich abundance of marine life that our waters host.

A point that I would really like to bring up, and I have friends who are world leaders in sharks and their understanding of the species far out weights mine. However we share the common belief that movies such as Jaws and other films, gave this wonderful animal who are beyond passive, a bad reputation as a fierce killer.

This is fantasy, and far from the truth. They are the most graceful and wonderful species, to inhabit our waters. They emanate mystery and power as the apex predator of the deeps and are greatly misunderstood.  I have caught hundreds of sharks fishing in my time, and observed them whilst snorkelling very often, and the same thing strikes me over and over. They are a peaceful and delicate species and are solitary in habit, and they minds their own business until we get involved.

None of the species of sharks in welsh waters are dangerous and your more likely to win the lottery three times in a row, than be attacked. Swim with piece of mind, these sharks are more interested in the local crab than your feet!

Below I’ve listed eleven of the most common species of shark found off the coastal Welsh waters. There are more, but to keep this blog a quick read for you all, I’ve capped it at that..

 

1.Basking Shark
The Basking Sharks arrive in the UK waters in summer. As it grows up to 11 m in length, this is considered the largest among the Sharks of North Wales. Cornwall, the Isle of Man and the Inner Hebrides are the most ideal places for spotting these species. In spite of its giant size, this shark is gentle by nature. Basking Shark feeds on zooplankton. They filter the plankton out of the water and eat it. This shark swims very back and forth slowly. While swimming it keeps its big mouth wide open.

How to Identify

The Basking Shark is easily identified with its large sized grey body. Also, while swimming it keeps its large mouth open. Those who spot the shark will feel that the creature is under a surprise or shock. When it moves in the water one can see the black dorsal fin which has a triangular shape making slow motion. The tip of the tail as well as the fat, round mouth and nose will be visible above the waves.

Basking shark

Habitat:  Coastal regions in summer months. I have seen these in 3 meters of water, 10 meters from the coast.

Did You Know:

Little is known about Basking Shark since it is elusive. However, it is found that they travel very long distances in water and reach Azores and even Newfoundland!

 

2. Lesser Spotted Dog Fish

Lesser Spotted Dog Fish is the most common species among the Shark family of North Wales. It can swim any distance and often move around the island Anglesey from one spot to another. Though they are found in the north eastern Atlantic Ocean they go even up to the Canary Islands. They grow up to 1 meter. Lesser Spotted Dog Fish feeds on crustaceans, shellfish and worms. Other shark species can be their predators . Lesser Spotted Dog Fish belongs to the family of Scyliorhinidae. They are harmless gentle sharks often found sleeping on the sea bed.

How to Identify

Lesser Spotted Dog Fish is grey-brown in color with brownish red spots on the upper part of the body. Belly is white. The grow to 3-4kg in weight.

lesser spoted dog fish

 

Habitat: Shallow coastal regions with strong tidal flow.

Did You Know

The egg-cases of Lesser Spotted Dog Fish are known as “mermaid’s purses”. The egg-cases are of olive-color and the empty cases can be found on the beach.

 

3. Blue Shark

Blue shark is quite elegant and the metallic blue color of it body makes it beautiful. Blue Sharks can be easily found in the open ocean They arrive the UK seas in summer months . They reach UK from the Caribbean through the Gulf Stream and return through the Atlantic North Equatorial Current. Blue Sharks feed mainly on small fish, squid, seabirds and small sharks. Sometimes they eat fish that lives close to the seabed.

How to Identify

Top of its body is of metallic blue color and under-part is white. The long front fins are distinctive.

blue shark

Habitats: Marine deep seas and coastal regions (deeper parts) in UK summer months.

Did You Know:

The fertilized eggs of Blue Shark remain in the mother’s uterus and in due course the mother delivers live babies. On an average the female Blue Shark delivers 35 pups at a time.

 

4. Common Smooth hound

This house-hound shark belongs to the Triakidae family. This shark species is found along the east Atlantic coast of UK, Mediterranean, Morocco, Canaries, Madeira and off the coast of Norway.  The male sharks grow up to a length of  2m  while females grow to a length of 2.5m. They swim either near bottom or in mid-water column. Common Smoothhound feed on crustaceans, cephalopods and bony fishes. They arrive on the shores of Anglesey to feed on crab in April, timing there arrival with the green crabs first peel. The can be caught on the rod and line at a umber of locations and provide an incredible flight.

How to Identify?

Common Smoothhound is of grey to grey-brown color with scattered dark spots. It is a slender shark with short head and snout. Eyes are large and close-set. The upper labial furrows are little longer than the lowers. It has dorsal fins without fringes. It has also a ventral caudal lobe.

 

Habitat: Coastal regions,  usually found in intertidal zones to not less than 35 m.

Did You Know:

Though a shark, common Smoothhound does not feed on fish. They eat crabs, lobsters, prawns, hermit crabs and shell fish.

 

 

5. Bull Huss

The actual name of this species is Greater Spotted Cat Shark. Among the Sharks of north Wales, Bull Huss is the largest cat shark. They move slowly. Normally, they live in rocky areas and also near the seabed. Bull Huss feeds on crustaceans, small fish, cuttlefish, crabs, prawns, marine worms, shellfish and molluscs. They eat more at night and during daytime they remain asleep on the seabed.

How to Identify 

Bull Huss is generally brownish to yellow and across the body there will be large spots. The mouth of this shark is far back on underside. The nasal grooves do not reach the mouth. The underside is white/pale. It has a long body with two dorsal fins far back on the body. Pectoral fins are prominent. The larger brother of the lesser spotted dog fish, they are a gentle beast. I have caught these up to 8kg in weight.

Bull hussHabitat:Shallow coastal regions with strong tidal flow.

Did You Know:

Though the meat, of Bull Huss is a good feast for fishermen, they seldom target this shark because it is too difficult and time-consuming to remove its tough and abrasive skin.

 

6. Porbeagle Shark

Porbeagle Shark belongs to Lamnidae shark family. This shark is of large size and normally it will be in deep water. They are vigorous swimmers and can travel any distance. From the Celtic waters they go even up to Newfoundland. Porbeagle Shark can live and hunt in colder waters than various other shark species in this blog, being endothermic. It can maintain a higher body temperature so as to keep itself warmer than the surrounding water. They feed on small fish like mackerel, whiting, herring, cuttlefish, squid and octopus.

How to Identify?

Porbeagle Shark is ‘mackerel’ blue in color and the belly is white. A characteristic white mark can be seen at rear base of dorsal bin. The large black eyes are without protective lids. Another characteristic feature is its pointed snout. Normally these sharks appear strong and healthy.

porbeagle

 

Habitat: Deep marine waters

Did You Know:

In fact the Porbeagle Shark is half the size of the great white shark and also there are no great white sharks in the UK waters (made one or two seen one in a. blue moon). Still, often Porbeagle Shark is mistaken for the great white shark and as a result wrong claims are made that there are great white sharks in UK waters.

 

7. Shortfin Mako Shark

These Sharks of North Wales are the fastest among all types of sharks. They can swim at a speed of 50 mph. They can also dive to depth beyond 400 feet and jump 20 feet high out of water. Shortfin Mako Sharks are found in water all over the world and are rarely found in the seas of UK and Ireland, from time to time. This shark species is highly active and is highly efficient hydrodynamically. They feed on tuna, squid and other sharks. Occasionally, they eat sea turtles and some of the marine mammals.

How to Identify:

Top of the body is deep metallic blue and ventrally white. The transition line between blue and white is distinct. Around the mouth and under the snout it is white. This shark has conic-cylindrical body and the snout is perfectly pointed. It has large black eyes. The mouth is distinctly U-shaped. Caudal keel is prominent and caudal fin is crescent-shaped. The long awl-like teeth protrude from mouth frequently.

mako

 

Habitat:Oceanic waters, coasts where continental shelf is short.

Did You Know:

ShortfinMako Shark can be caught in the Celtic deeps of the coast of Wales.

 

8. Starry Smooth hound

This is a common inshore  shark species. It is found in British Isles and North Sea to Canary Islands including Mediterranean and Mauritania. It grows up to a length of 140 cm. Starry Smoothhound is found within the depth range 0 – 350 m and normally it is found in water with sandy and gravelly bottom. Being viviparous, they give birth to live young sharks. This shark species feeds on crabs, lobsters and small bony fish.

How to Identify?

This shark is long, small and thin. On the top of the body, around the fin and near the tail scattered little white dots can be seen.
Habitat: Marine – 0 to 100 m depth.

 

Smoothound types

 

Did You Know:

Starry Smoothhound is often caught in greater abundance in north Wales and has been tracked seasonally moving from Norwegian waters to here to feed.

 

9.Thresher Shark

Thresher Shark migrates to UK waters in summer. Most of the time it remains in deep water. It is endothermic so as to survive in very cold water. Thresher Shark feeds on smaller fish.

How to Identify:

This large shark has torpedo-shaped body with large dorsal fin as well as pectoral fins. The upper lobe of the tail of this shark is as long as its body and this long upper lobe makes it distinct from other sharks. They have been caught up to 120kg off the coast of Wales.

 

Thresher

 

Habitat: Marine deep water

Did You Know:

Thresher Shark hunts the fish using its very long tail. It will swim at the fishes and thrash its tail just like a whip so as to catch them easily.

 

10. Tope Shark

Tope Shark is slender as well as beautiful and can be seen close to the shore. It grows up to 6 feet length. It can travel very long distances and from UK they reach as far as the Canary Islands. They feed on varieties of fish and also crustaceans. They are often caught in North Wales waters around the Llyn peninsular and Anglesey. Can be found feeding on mackerel and jelly fish.

How to Identify?

This long, slender shark has grey upper body and white belly. The two dorsal fins and the notched tail are the other distinctive features.

Tope

 

Habitat:Shallow coastal regions with strong tidal flow.

Did You Know:

Tope Shark are the most common to be found in welsh waters aside from the lesser spotted dogfish and bull Huss, and van be caught routinely all summer long in north Wales.

 

11. Spotted Ray
Spotted Ray is one among the smallest species of the Sharks of North Wales, but still species of sharks none the less. It grows up to 80 cm. Adults are found offshore whereas the young lives in shallow areas close to the coast. Spotted Ray reproduces very quickly. Though it is a type of skate it is considered as ray because of its long whip-like tail. Spotted Ray feeds on fish, worms and crustaceans.

How to Identify:

The Spotted Ray is diamond-shaped with a lot of dark spots on its back. There will be no spots on the edge of the wings. Sometimes there will be an eyespot on each wing. The spotted pattern is not up to the edge of the wings and hence the edge appears either yellow or pale brown. This feature makes it different from the Blonde Ray.

Blonde ray

 

Habitat: Marine

Did You Know:

Just behind each eye of the Spotted Ray there is a hole. These holes are called spiracles. Spiracles enable the Spotted Ray to breathe whenever it gets buried under sand.

 

So here some of the books I’ve been looking at online, there are some gems out there. I don’t own all of these, I own the bottom two which (the second to last) has some lovely illustrations on sharks. There are so many lovely books, for the coastal home and coffee table that I could list dozens here. I’ve just listed a few that will give a chapter or two on the topic of sharks in north Atlantic waters.

 

Front Cover image :  Photo by Gerald Schömbs on Unsplash

 

Tan Y Tro Nesaf  / Until the next time,

 

Nick

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