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Sharks & Rays

At least 21 species of sharks have been recorded in British coastal waters. In addition at least 12 species of Skates and Rays, one species of Stingray and 2 species of Electric Rays also live in the shallow seas surrounding Britain. Other species occur in deeper water. 

The commonest inshore shark species of the N E Atlantic is the Lesser Spotted Dogfish, Scyliorhinus canicula, which rarely grows much longer than 1 metre in length. The egg case of this small shark is known as a Mermaid's Purse

No fatal shark attacks have been recorded in British coastal waters. There has been  one unsuccessful attack on a SCUBA divers. 

11 March 2008
6:00 pm (arrive from 5:00 pm) - 7:30 pm

Shark Biology and Conservation
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Venue:  Zoological Society of London, Regent's Park, London
Free admission for the talks
Booking in advance only for the dinner
Contact: Joy Hayward

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The European Elasmobranch Association, Shark Trust, National Marine Aquarium, Rope Walk, Coxside, Plymouth PL4 OLF, UK.

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Shark Trust Annual Conference 2002 
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New Millennium Shark & Ray News
(NE Atlantic Ocean)

Sting Ray

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latest Shark News

NEWS 2004

News:  Thresher Shark land at Plymouth

Huge Sharks 

26 August 1999
Fishermen (6 witnesses) from Cornwall report a large predatory shark off Padstow, Cornwall, with a length reported of 3.6 metres (11 ft). If allowances are made for exaggeration, it could be a Porbeagle Shark, Lamna nasus, that attains a length of 3 metres, or a Shortfin Mako, Isurus oxyrinchus, which could reach a length of nearly 4 metres. The Mako is a dangerous shark although attacks on humans are rare, virtually non-existent. Occurrences of the warm water Mako in British seas are usually recorded in August and are rare, although they are occasionally caught in commercial nets. 

Could it be a Great White Shark?

The report appeared in the Sun newspaper when it was identified as the Great White Shark, Carcharodon carcharias, which is unknown from British seas. This identification has not been ruled out. If it is a Great White its occurrence in area where large numbers of larger Basking Sharks have been seen may not be a coincidence. Great Whites could prey on them.    AH.
The temperature of the sea off Cornwall is estimated to be about 18° C in August. Great Whites occur regularly in the Mediterranean Sea where the winter sea temperatures are likely to fall to 13° C (Naples) so that the usual reason of temperature intolerance is not the most likely reason for its absence around the British Isles in summer.  My guess would be the availability of prey on a regular basis whilst the sea temperature is warm enough is the reason for its absence. If it is a Great White its occurrence could be associated with the huge numbers of Basking Sharks in the last 2 years. The same reasons could apply for the appearance of Mako Sharks. 
Sea Temperature Chart
The Cornish sea temperatures will only exceed 13° C from June until October. Warm water fish and sharks will have to return south to deeper seas or die. 
The newspapers have shown pictures of Basking Sharks, which are known to be prevalent this year. 

Rolf Williams (National Aquarium, Plymouth) went up to Padstow on to the boat and spoke to some of the observers - he considers the shark was 11 foot plus, so it was either a very large Porbeagle (possibly a Mako ?) or a Great White Shark. He thinks it is a 50/50 chance.  Cornwall has enough Grey Seals to provide a dinner table for all the Great White Sharks in the East Atlantic. We were sent film of a Great White Sharks seen off Minehead by Westcountry TV.  It was lovely footage of a Basking Shark.

Information provided by Doug Herdson.
The penultimate paragraph compiled by Doug Herdson
 "I also agree with Doug: seals & since whites are occasionally found in Biscay, its not beyond the realms of possibility. But having looked into similar reports in the past, I'm sceptical until real proof is found."
Philip Vas 

I have interviewed four of the crew who saw the 'Great White Shark'.  Their identification is based only on size, colour, and estimated weight.  None of the crucial distinguishing features were described and they did not express a knowledge of what to look for - most notably the white free rear tip on the first dorsal fin.  I had a good look at the boat, a 28 footer, against which they judged size.  The shark appeared 40 ft off and passed just 5 ft from the boat in a single glide at the surface.  It was seen for about 45 seconds total.  I believe that it is quite possible that the shark was a very large Porbeagle.  The FAO species catalogue 1984 puts a possible maximum length for Porgies at 370 cm / 12 ft.  The crew fish for porbeagles regularly but have not previously caught any close to this record size. I believe that an error of 3 ft could have been made in judging length, and that all the other features they described to me equally describe a Porbeagle.  Off course we will never know, but I think it is probable that there is a monster Porbeagle off Padstow because there is no doubt that they saw a colossal shark.  Since they regularly target this species with gear that can land such a shark, we may yet see this fellow again...?!


Rolf Williams
Interpretation Officer. (National Aquarium, Plymouth)

Record Weights (British seas):

  Shark, Mako   Isurus oxyrinchus
      Boat  500 lb -00-00  Eddystone, Devon           J M Yallop     1971
      Metric  227 kg 
      Shore 40-00-00  Vacant Qualifying weight

  Shark, Porbeagle  Lamna nasus
      Boat   507 lb -00-00  Dunnet Head, Scotland      C Bennett      1993
      Metric  230 kg   (World Record)
      Shore   40-00-00  Vacant Qualifying weight

Great White Shark Links

Sussex Porbeagle

1 February 1999
A 3 metres* long Mako Shark, Isurus  oxyrinchus, (the consensus now seems that it is a Porbeagle) was caught three miles off Brighton by cod fishermen and brought into Monteum Fish Market at nearby Shoreham-by-Sea. The shark weighed 172 kg (378 lb). The largest shark normally caught in Sussex seas is the Tope, Galeorhinus galeus, and then only occasionally. Rarely Porbeagle Sharks, Lamna nasus, have even been caught, but this is my first report of a Mako.

Reported in the Shoreham Herald.

[* One report said 2.2 metres, excluding the tail fin?]
Shark Page
Letter to Shoreham Herald
PS: On further examination the shark looks like a Porbeagle.  AH  11/2/99.
Further investigation underway.

The consensus now seems that it is a Porbeagle. Doug Herdson, Marcus Goodsir, Andy Horton. 16/2/99.
I have now seen the colour photograph and this clearly indicates a Porbeagle.  AH.
5 Porbeagles landed at the fish market in Plymouth from September 1998 to February 1999, the largest being a female of 243 cm (115 kg). Doug Herdson.

Porbeagle landed in Guernsey on 10 March 1999. Sarah Fowler, Shark Trust.

The local fishermen know that large sharks live off the north-east of England, especially around Coquet Island, near Amble off the Northumberland coast. They are caught every year, but in 1998, more sharks and larger specimens were caught. Both the Porbeagle Shark, Lamna nasus, and the Shortfin Mako Shark, Isurus oxyrinchus, were reported. Unfortunately these two sharks are often confused. On 13/14 August two Shortfin Mako Sharks (one about 5 metres long and the other larger) were caught in salmon nets about 3 miles south-east of Whitby, North Yorkshire. One of the sharks had 3 Lampreys Petromyzon marinus embedded in it. We have also received a September report of two Porbeagle Sharks estimated to weigh 190 kg (420 lb) and another larger one with an estimated weight of 363 kg (800 lb), as well as large sharks off the Tyne and one landed at Hartlepool. We have not been able to check the precise dates of these records, although the Mako reports came from the National Marine Aquarium, Plymouth, Rare Fish Records, kept by Doug Herdson.

Great White Mako

Porbeagle Sharks

July 2004
We discovered a 1.93 metres (6 ft 4 in) long fresh shark washed up dead on the beach between Hornsea and Mappleton on the Yorkshire North East coast.

Report by Rae Atkins

Photograph by Rae Atkins Photograph by Rae Atkins

Photographs by Rae Atkins

This shark appears to be a Porbeagle Shark, Lamna nasus. There is a population of this large predatory shark in the North Sea. Their occurence may match the Salmon on which they prey. Specimens washed up dead on the beach are unusual. 
BMLSS Sharks

30 June 2000
Large Porbeagle Sharks have been spotted cruising by the south west Casquets bank north of Guernsey, Channel Islands, leisurely robbing long-lines set for Bass by biting the fish in half, with gapes of about 12 cm in the prey.

Report by Richard Lord (Guernsey)
16 November 1999
A female Porbeagle was landed at St. Peter Port harbour this afternoon (16/11/99 at 1300) by Richard Seager who was gill netting for Bass and Red Mullet near Hanois lighthouse on the south-west tip of Guernsey.  The female was caught in the same location as a male Porbeagle caught a couple of weeks ago. The total length was 219 cm.

27 October 1999
A gill net fisherman accidentally caught a juvenile porbeagle off Guernsey's West Coast on Wednesday, October 27.  The female porbeagle died in the net, which was in the sea for two days. The net couldn't be recovered earlier because of bad weather.  The porbeagle had a total weight of 15 kg (33 lb.) weighed on scale. The fisherman estimated its length (on the telephone to me) at 120 cm.   He caught it in 25 metres of water near rocks called Les Grunes de Nord-Ouest (about 49° 30' N and 2° 38' W)  The fisherman reported that the shark's stomach was empty but it was going for a netted Pollack (Pollachius pollachius). I understand the shark made a bit of a mess of the net.

May 1999
The fishermen also recounted an interesting story to me that occurred in May of this year.  He said he was fishing about 2 miles off Guernsey's west coast in about 35 to 40 metres of water.  His boat was surrounded by seagulls.  One of them was sitting on the water. He saw a shark rise just over a metre (3 or 4 feet) out of the water and take the seagull in his mouth.  He then gently swam away. He thinks the shark was a Porbeagle but he cannot be sure.

10 March 1999
A 103 kg (total weight) female Porbeagle Shark was landed at St. Peter Port Harbour, Guernsey.
It was caught in a monofilament gill net off the south-west Coast of Guernsey in about 60 feet of water.  The gill net was set for Sea Bass, Dicentrarchus labrax.  The net was about 300 yards long and 30 feet deep.
The Porbeagle was wrapped in the net and dead when brought aboard.

Length to tip of lower caudal lobe was 207.5 cm
Fork length was 192 cm.
Snout to origin of first dorsal fin was 72.5 cm
Origin of D1 to origin of D2 was 85 cm
Body depth at origin of D1 was about 44 cm.
Gutted weight was 87.7 kg. (heart removed too)
Liver weighed 9.90 kg.
Heart weighed 0.35 kg.
Ovaries (no embryos) weighed 0.55 kg.
Stomach and spiral value weighed 2.85 kg.
(Lots of blood in the coelom)

The stomach contained one squid beak probably belonging to Loligo forbesi.

Reports by Richard Lord (Guernsey).

Porbeagle Shark (from Newlyn, May 1999)
Porbeagle Shark (Guernsey 1999)

31 November 2003
A Cornish long-line fishermen has caught a total 115 Porbeagle Sharks, Lamna nasus, on two long-line fisherytrips to their feeding grounds off Cornwall. The largest one weighed 60 kg (132 lb), but is unclear if this was the weight before on after it was gutted. It was two metres long, probably including the tail fin. These look like a pre breeding stock of Porbeagles with females that do not attain maturity until they are two metres in length. This mass capture has raised the ire of environmentalists as the large species of sharks and even some of smaller species like the Angel Shark, Squatina squatina, are vulnerable to excessive fishing. In the 1960s the Newfoundland fishery for Porbeagle was seriously overfished as ceased as a commercial activity. Hundreds of Porbeagle Sharks are caught off northern France each year. 
BBC News Report

Shark Trust Conference Report

Blue Shark

12 August 2000
The sleek lines of 4 Blue Sharks, Prionace glauca, were seen 7 miles off the Bishop's Rock, off the westernmost tip of Cornwall. Fish is thrown overboard to attract Wilson's Petrels and other sea birds and the sharks arrive. 

Report on Vince Smith's One-List/Cornish Wildlife
A Blue Shark, Prionace glauca, was washed up on Gibraltar Point beach, near Skegness, Lincolnshire in November 1998. It was just over 2 metres long and was damaged by what looked like another shark bite. Although usually regarded as a southern shark, specimens have been reported before from off the north-east coast of England. including a specimen in shallow water earlier in the year. 
Report by Andy Colls (Chesterfield)
A Blue Shark was also washed up on the Dutch coast about the same time.
                                                                    (Erick Staal)

Oceanic White-tip Shark

29 September 2004
One of the most extraordinary shark tales involved the discovery of a tropical Oceanic White-tip Shark, Carcharhinus longimanus, that had badly lost its way and was discovered swimming around a warship in a brackish water fjord near Gullmarsfjorden in west Sweden. It died shortly afterwards. The shark, a male, was 230 cm long, (total length), and weighed 65.65 kg. This is the first record in northern European seas and it has never been discovered around the British coast. A Swedish Museum in Gothenburg has now the shark for further examination.

Report and Identification by Kent Andersson

The Oceanic White-tip Shark is found worldwide in epipelagic tropical and subtropical waters between 20° North and 20° South latitude. Its range is from Portugal to the Gulf of Guinea in the eastern Atlantic. There are a few records from the Mediterranean Sea. It lives in sea temperatures above 21° C. It is usually found over deep water a long way from the shore. It is known to associate with Pilot Whales and may follow boats or ships if a constant food source is available. This shark has a reputation for attacking Man. 

How could the shark have arrived in the fjord? The speculation could involves man's activities as a discard from a deep water fishing catch? 

Further Information
Fishbase entry


Capt. Tom's Guide to New England Sharks, USA

Basking Shark

Family: Cetorhinidae

Basking Shark News Item 1998, Cetorhinus maximus. . 
Basking Shark Reports, 1998, 1999.
Basking Sharks (more) 

The largest Basking Shark recorded in British seas was washed up on Brighton beach, Sussex, in 1806. The weight was estimated at 8 tonnes, if the record is to be believed. AH

Link to the Basking Shark First web page

9 July 1999 
Proposal to include the Basking Shark (Cetorhinus maximus) on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES)
DETR  http://www.wildlife-countryside.detr.gov.uk/gwd/shark/Index.htm

A Large Predatory Shark

January 1998
A large shark of over 5 metres long (16 ft) long was seen in Sandsound Voe on the western coast of the Shetland Isles attacking seals, which are attracted by the salmon in the cages. The shark was estimated to weigh 500 kg. The species was not identified. Species of shark in British seas that reach this size include the Greenland Shark, Somniosus microcephalus, which will attain lengths of over 6 metres and is known to attack seals on occasions. This shark is a northern species which is not often recorded off the coast of Scotland. Both Philip Vas and Len Nevell have suggested it could be a Six-gilled Shark, Hexanchus griseus
Six-gilled Shark Page 2


June 1997.
A Tope with an estimated weight in excess of 42 kg (93 lb) was caught by Margaret Tuckwell whilst fishing off Selsey Bill, Sussex, at a mark known as the Mixon Hole, which is popular with divers. This weight would have been a world record if the shark had been landed alive and weighed, but this specimen was returned to the sea, The current rod and line record of Galeorhinus galeus, is 37.4 kg (82 lb 8 oz) for a Tope caught off Bradwell-on-Sea, Essex, (southern North Sea) in 1991, with another large fish caught in the same area in 1986. Tope are not very common in the English Channel and most angled specimens are caught in the summer months. The sharks migrate in from more southerly seas. The Tope caught at Selsey was 198 cm long and 78 cm in girth. 
The weight has since be revised to an estimate of 35 kg.
On 24 October 1994 angler Fred Oakley at Santa Monica California took a 
98 lb 8 oz (44.67 kg) Tope, Galeorhinus galeus.  Source is IGFA World record
fishes. - Tom
Capt. Tom's shark webpage

Large Tope from Sussex, 1982

22 September 1999
A large Tope, Galeorhinus galeus,weighing  between 38 and 40 kg (85 to 90 lb), was tagged and released off the Isles of Mull, Scotland, not knowing that it was a new record weight for the species.
This weight may be overestimated. A figure of 25 kg (55 lb) seems about right. 

(Len Nevell, Sea Angling Report)
25 August 1999
A Tope of 50 lb was caught off Minehead, Somerset, by Richard Hoddinott.
(Len Nevell, Sea Angling Report)
Tope:  Biological Notes by Len Nevell

Tope are on display in the large tank at Brighton Sea Life Centre. 

Shark Attack Book
Shark & Ray Conference Report 1996 (BMLSS Scotland)
Shark Conference Report 1998
Skate & Tope Tagging in Scotland

Six-gilled Shark   Hexanchus griseus

Len Nevell EMail

Eagle Ray

4 May 1999
A 2779 gram (2.779 kg.) female Eagle Ray, Myliobatis aquila, was caught by trawl  in 15 metres of water at about 2000 hours on Schole bank, off Guernsey, Channel Islands, English Channel.  The bank is composed of broken shell and sand.
The Eagle Ray was caught with blonde rays, brill and a few lesser spotted dogfish.
The Eagle Ray had a wing span of 585 mm and a total length of 956 mm. The body length (tip of snout to origin of tail) was 330 mm.
The stomach and spiral valve contained two small squat lobsters, one hermit crab, and pieces of scallop shell.  The liver weighed 150 grams and the ray weighed 2384 grams gutted.

Report by Richard Lord (Guernsey)

Blonde Ray

August 1997.
A Blonde Ray, Raja brachyura, with the edible wings weighing in excess of 19 kg was captured in a trawl off Prawle Point, Devon. This was a very large specimen. The weight of the whole ray was estimated at 23 kg. 

22 September 1999
A Blonde Ray of 14 kg (30 lb) caught off  East Ferry, Cork, Eire, by Norman Dunlop.

(Len Nevell, Sea Angling Report)
I have a record on file of a specimen of a Blonde Ray weighed in at  16.6 kg    (36 lb 8 oz)  caught on rod and line from from Cork Harbour  in September 1964. AH 

Cuckoo Ray Report 2002

Electric Ray

17 July 2000
An Electric RayTorpedo nobiliana, was caught, whilst fishing for Nephrops (Scampi), 8 miles north of Lossiemouth, Moray Firth, NW Scotland, by the Banff registered vessel "Charisma". The ray immediately made one of the crew aware of it by giving him an electric shock. It has found a temporary home in the MacDuff Public Aquarium but it is not on public display because of the danger to the public in their open ray tank. It will be returned to sea. This species is the commoner of the two species of Electric Ray found around Britain (the other one is the Marbled Electric Ray, Torpedo marmorata) and both are generally southern species and are much rarer further north. This species is one that divers should be warned not to touch, if they spot a ray swimming in mid-water. Most records from British seas are in the summer and autumn. 

Report by Witek Mojsiewicz (Aberdeen)
30 May 1999
A small Electric Ray, Torpedo nobiliana, was caught by fisherman John Gillam off Brighton, Sussex. These fish are occasionally caught off the Sussex coast each year. What was unusual about this fish was that it was captured alive and put on display at Brighton Sea Life Centre.
August 1998. An Electric Ray, Torpedo nobiliana, was caught with some difficulty, because the powerful electric shocks transmitted up the line, by angler Steve Alnutt off Shoreham Beach, Sussex. It weighed 8 kg (18 lb) and was returned alive.

OE  Ray = reohha, ruhha. The commercial fisheries name is Roker, and this is an alternative common name for the the Thornback Ray, Raja clavata.

Marbled Electric Ray

The Marbled Electric Ray, Torpedo marmorata, is increasingly common around Guernsey.  Commercial fishermen are catching them almost every week.  The fishermen who caught the Eagle Ray told me he caught an electric ray yesterday but he wasn't certain which species it was (T. nobiliana or T. marmorata). Torpedo marmorata has been seen in breeding aggregations to the south of the Island of Sark in the Autumn.

Torpedo marmorata appears to be much more common than T. nobiliana around
the Bailiwick of Guernsey.  The inshore gill netters catch them during the winter and
trawlers seem to get them on the banks during the summer months.

Report by Richard Lord (Guernsey) May 1999 

Marbled Electric Ray (Sussex)


 I recently interviewed a shore angler who had caught a 22 kg (46.5 lb) female Stingray Dasyatis pastinaca on the N.E England coast.  While it was not measured properly, the angler estimated its DW at 1 metre (3 ft) and snout to tail stump also 1 metre. He was very interested to find out an age for the animal  -  does anyone have any ideas? The Stingray was caught in July or August 1998 which seems to be months in which they are most likely to be caught, when the sea is at its warmest. 

Alec Moore
Univ. of Warwick.
Sting Ray
Stingrays have been raised to adults in captivity by the Sea Life Centres in Britain and the adults have produced their own young.
Public Aquaria Database

15 September 1999
A Stingray of 35 lb was caught off Poole, Dorset by Mark Butler.

(Len Nevell, Sea Angling Report)
Thresher Shark

21 November 2007
A five metre long Thresher Shark, Alopias vulpinus, was landed at Newlyn Fish Market and was caught by skipper of The Imogen Roger Nowell whilst trawling for squid and John Dory off Land's End. It weighed weighed  510 kg (1,125 lb) and was the heaviest on record landed at Newlyn. Comparatively, the angling record fish weighed 146 kg. Commercial fishermen have landed Thresher Sharks up to 400 kg before. 

BBC News Report

18 May 2004Three professional anglers witnessed a Thresher Shark, Alopias, leap completely out of the water, tail and all, four consecutive times to the west of Alderney, Channel Islands, Great Britain at about 8:00 pm. One angler told me that he estimated the body length of the shark at about 170 cm. The leaping activity occurred about 100 metres away from their boat. The leaps were head first and perpendicular out of the water. There were drifting while fishing for Bass, Dicentrarchus labrax, approximately one mile west of Garden Rock, which has a large Gannet colony covering the entire rock. Atlantic Mackerel were also in the area.

Reportby Richard Lord (Guernsey)
on the Marine Wildlife of the North-east Atlantic Ocean Group

10 November 1999
A juvenile male Thresher Shark, Alopias vulpinus, was landed in Guernsey. It was caught in gill nets about one mile south of Guernsey in about 20 metres of water. It measured 175 cm in total length, of which the long forked caudal or tail fin is about this length. 
More Information

Reports by Richard Lord (Guernsey).
10 June 1999
A male Thresher Shark, Alopia vulpinus, was landed at Plymouth. It was caught in a bottom set net off the south Devon coast. The length was given at 4.04 metres, but this may have included the long tail fin which is equal to the body length. 
(Report from Doug Herdson, National Marine Aquarium at Plymouth.)
February 1999
A 230 cm male Thresher Shark,  Alopius vulpinus, was taken in midwater 16 miles SSW of Eddystone Rocks, south of Plymouth, Cornwall.
Thresher Sharks are occasional summer migrants to the English Channel.
Report by Philip Vas.
Big-eyed Thresher Shark

Sharp-nosed Seven-gilled Shark

July 1999
Sharp-nosed Seven-gilled Shark, Hepranchias perlo, was caught on a bottom-set long-line to the west of the Scilly Isles. This only the third record of this shark in British and Irish* waters, the other records occurring off Cornwall and southern Ireland. It was an immature female, which made it a large specimen for its size, when compared to Pacific specimens. The total length of the shark was 102 cm.
(*British does not refer to UK territorial waters.)
Report by Dr. Aaron C. Henderson(who dissected the specimen)
Martin Ryan Marine Science Institute
National University of Ireland, Galway, Republic of Ireland.

Shark reports not checked yet 
British Sharks

Somnulosus microcephalus 
Etmopterus spinax 
Dalatias licha
Echinorhinus brucus 
Hexanchus griseus
Heptranehias perlo
Chlamydoselachus anguineus
Squalus acanthias 
Sphyrna zygaena 
Prionace glauca 
Mustelus mustelus
Mustelus asterias
Galeorhinus galeus
Galeus melastomus 
Scyliorhinus canicula
Scyliorhinus stellaris 
Squatina squatina
Isurus oxyrinchus
Alopius vulpinus 
Alopias superciliosus
Lamna nasus 
Cetorhinus maximus
Echinorhinus brucus 

All Shark species (External)

Recommended Guide: 

A Field Guide to the Sharks of British Coastal Waters

by Philip Vas

Field Studies Council Publications. Tel: 01743 850370.


ISBN 0-00-220104-6
This book contains a large bibliography. 

Basking Sharks (Isle of Man, UK)
Basking Shark Fact Sheet (USA)
Inference Search Engine (good for sharks)

                Shark  Discovery CD-ROM is available.

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Egg Capsules of Rays & Sharks

Egg Capsules of Rays & Sharks (Link)

Fiona's Shark Mania
Sharkman's World
Shark & Ray Species List (British)

UK Elasmobranchs

Use these links if your are familiar with the scientific classifications of marine life
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