Sharks: Volunteers sought to document animals in Wales' seas

A basking shark
Basking sharks live in UK waters and are the second largest species of shark in the world

How do you fancy shark spotting from the comfort of your own home?

Volunteers are being recruited to identify sharks, skates and rays captured on underwater cameras around the Welsh coast.

Data from more than 90 hours of footage needs to be logged to help build a picture of the diversity of species.

Volunteer Matt Thomson said he was already hooked and hoped to see a "really rare" angel shark during his work on the project.

Sharks Inspiring Action and Research with Communities (SIARC ) is a collaboration between Natural Resources Wales and the Zoological Society of London as well as communities in Gwynedd.

Throughout the summer of 2022, protected and critically endangered species were filmed by remote underwater cameras in a special conservation area off the Llyn Peninsula.

Critically endangered tope
The project has led to sightings of the critically endangered tope

Previously for researchers' eyes only, the footage is now available to everyone via the Instant Wild website.

These "citizen scientists" are asked to log the types of sharks, skates and rays they see, helping to save researchers lots of time and effort.

Joanna Barker from the Zoological Society of London said: "We'll have a scientist reviewing all the footage, but the citizen scientists will be the validator.

"We'll be able to compare both the scientist and citizen scientist scores and data and it'll just really improve the scientific data that we get out of this project."

Volunteer Matt Thomson
Volunteer Matt Thomson says he is already "hooked" on the project

Mr Thomson has been logging exotic wildlife using the Instant Wild app for 10 years.

He said: "I'd really like to see an angel shark - that's what the project's all about, they're very rare.

"I'll be very surprised if we do actually see any and I'd be really excited to see a basking shark.

"But there's plenty of other things to keep you interested. Any shark, skate or ray that you see on these cameras is going to be really interesting."

Jake Davies grew up on the Llyn Peninsula and is now the project coordinator for SIARC, helping to set up the underwater cameras.

Fishing crews have helped him find the liveliest spots and he said the footage revealed a previously hidden world.

"Every time we say we're studying sharks, many people are surprised that we have sharks present off the Welsh coast," he said.

"But Wales hosts a range of different shark species, over 25 in fact, from one of the rarest in the world - the angel shark - to one of the largest, which is the basking shark."

Whether it is crabs tussling with sharks or curious conger eels, the project has delivered amazing visuals for the public.

Researchers are now hoping to get the clearest picture yet of life at the bottom of the sea.

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