A Critically Endangered angel shark at Deep Sea World, Scotland’s national aquarium, has given birth to a record 19 pups after a three-week labour.
It’s the first time the shark, which was officially declared extinct in the North Sea in 2006, has given birth successfully in captivity in the UK and zoologists believe it may also be a world first.
Anne gave birth to the first pup prematurely three weeks ago. Since then a team of divers and aquarists have been looking after the one-and-a-half metre long shark in a special isolation tank.
She subsequently gave birth to four pups two weeks ago, with 11 arriving on Monday and the final three were born on Wednesday of this week.
Deep Sea World’s Zoological Manager, Chris Smith, said:“All the pups, including the one which was born prematurely, are doing extremely well.
“We have already got a number of them to take food from a stick which is a very positive sign. It’s been an amazing effort by Anne and we’re absolutely delighted that such a vulnerable species has bred successfully in captivity for the first time.
“For us to have had one pup would have been a cause for real celebration, to have 19 of them is nothing short of extraordinary.
“We’ll be sharing the information we have gained throughout the pregnancy and birth with other aquariums throughout Europe in the hope that we can replicate this success at other sites and help to protect the species from the threat of extinction,” he added.
Specialist vet Romain Pizzi joined divers and Deep Sea World’s zoological team to assist with the delivery of the pups. He managed to get the first ever live images of shark pups inside their mum by using a tiny camera on the end of an endoscope.
Five years ago the angel shark, which can grow to two meters in length, was officially listed Critically Endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.
The sharks, which spend most of their timeliving on the seafloor, get their name from their pectoral fins which look like an angel’s wings.
They grow very slowly and mature only at a large size. The result is that very few angel sharks reach maturity and breed resulting in an ever declining population.