When a shark fin emerged from beneath the waves not too far from bathers at Rhossili Bay in Gower, it came as a huge shock to the people on the beach there.
Many were taking photographs and pointing, wondering what the fin might be attached to, and nervously enjoying their own ‘Jaws’ moment.
It might seem unusual to find sharks off the Welsh coast, but they are actually more common than you might think.
According to the Shark Trust, there are in fact over 40 species of sharks living in British waters, including some of the “fastest, rarest, largest and most highly migratory in the world”.
At least 21 of these species live in our seas all year round, but it is unlikely that you will ever come across many of them.
Sadly, scientists consider over 50% of British sharks to be threatened or nearly threatened. This includes the once common angelshark, or monkfish, which is now rarely seen.
Here are some of the sharks swimming off our Welsh coast and what you can do to help them.
The Shark Trust describes these fish as being creamy beige on top with dark spots scattered on their skin.
Females can grow up to two feet long.
They are the most common shark to be found in British seas and are luckily listed as of “least concern” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Catsharks are nocturnal and spend the day resting on the sea bed before going out hunting at night.
Adults are found in deeper water, but young catsharks are often found in shallow water. However, you’re most likely to find their egg cases, known as mermaid’s purses, washed up on the shoreline.
They’re generally most active between January and December.
Smooth-hound sharks are described as being grey or brown in colour with two dorsal fins and are often caught in shallow water by anglers.
Females can grow up to three feet long and give birth to live young, in litters of up to 25 pups.
They are described as “strong fighters” but exclusively feed on crustaceans and are considered harmless to humans. There have been no reported attacks on humans by the species.
The starry smooth-hound’s conservation status is currently “of least concern”.
This shark species is present all year round in British waters, but their conservation status is considered “near threatened” by the IUCN.
According to The Wildlife Trusts, nursehounds like to stay close to the sea floor, living in rocky areas with lots of algae. They hunt at night, feeding on cephalopods (like squid and octopus), crustaceans, smaller fish and even other sharks.
The nurseshound is a large catshark. It is long and slender towards the front and has large spots all over its body.
In the daytime, the species hide in holes in rocks, with multiple sharks sometimes resting in the same crevice.
Larger sharks can grow around five feet long.
These are long and slender sharks with grey upper bodies and a white belly. They have two dorsal fins and a “distinctive notched tail”, according to The Wildlife Trusts.
Topes are often found close to shore and can grow up to an impressive six feet long.
They can live for over 50 years and are found around all UK coasts all year round.
Sadly, these beautiful sharks are listed as “vulnerable” by the IUCN and it is a priority species under the UK Post-2010 biodiversity framework.
They feed on a variety of fish and crustaceans. Tagging studies have recorded that Topes can travel huge distances.
Sharks tagged in the UK have been found as far away as the Canary Islands.
There are no reports that the species has ever attacked humans.
These are the gentle giants of our seas, generally reaching 26 feet in length.
Weighing up to six tonnes, they are the largest fish in British waters and the second largest in the world after whale sharks.
They are just one of three plankton-feeding sharks and are often spotted in British coastal waters each spring and summer. Unlike most sharks, they prefer to ‘bask’ in the upper layers of the water with their mouths wide open.
Because of this, they can seem terrifying with their upper fin circling in the water. However, they do not attack humans.
According to The Wildlife Trusts, the North East Atlantic population is classed as endangered by the IUCN.
They are also classified as a priority species under the UK Post-2010 Biodiversity Framework as well as being protected in the UK under the Wildlife and Countryside Act.
They are most commonly seen between and September when they arrive in British waters.
It is very rare that porbeagle sharks attack humans, despite them often being mistaken for deadly great whites.
At around eight feet long, porbeagle sharks are half the size of great whites and hunt small fish including mackerel, whiting and herring, as well as octopus, squid and cuttlefish.
The Wildlife Trusts describes their appearance as being a brilliant blue with a white belly and characteristic white mark at the rear base of the dorsal fin.
“It is a robust but streamlined shark with a pointed snout and large black eyes without protective lids”, the trust added.
Studies have shown that they can travel huge distances. One porbeagle shark tagged in Irish waters was later found as far away as Newfoundland in Canada
Other sharks that can be found in our waters according to Shark Trust:
Angelshark (Critically endangered)
Angular roughshark (Vulnerable)
Birdbeak dogfish (Endangered in Europe)
Blue shark (Near threatened)
Bramble shark (Endangered)
Common smoothhound (Vulnerable)
Greenland shark (Near threatened)
Kitefin shark (Vulnerable)
Leafscale gulper shark (Endangered in Europe)
Longnose velvet dogfish
Portuguese dogfish (Endangered in Europe)
Sharpnose sevengill shark (Near threatened)
Shortfin mako (Endangered)
Smooth hammerhead shark (Vulnerable)
Spurdog (Endangered in Europe)
Thresher shark (Endangered in Europe)
Velvetbelly lanternshark (Near threatened in Europe)
What can we do to help sharks?
Sharks are amongst the world’s most threatened animals, their numbers are dwindling because of overfishing, high demand for shark products, finning, pollution and habitat destruction.
Shark Trust encourages the public to get involved in its citizen science projects, which include recording sharks caught or sighted in British waters.
The charity also recommends looking closely at packaging if you are buying shark products to make sure they are sustainably sourced.
They added: “Sustainable fish can be traced from the boat to the counter. Look for packaging which identifies the region where the fish was caught.
“Some seafood products list ‘FAO Area 27’ as the region but this is the code for the entire Northeast Atlantic.”
-- to www.walesonline.co.uk