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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 September 2018

Hammerhead sharks and cowtail rays: eight endangered species found in UAE waters

A look at some of the threatened species of sharks, rays and sawfish that roam the UAE's waters

Whitetip reef shark. Alamy
Whitetip reef shark. Alamy

The Arabian Seas region is home to 153 species of sharks, rays, skates, sawfish and chimaera. Just over half are considered threatened. A four-year federal action plan has been announced to help bring them back and protect the fragile ecosystems of our waters.

Whitetip reef sharks are found in coral reefs of the Indo-Pacific. A slow swimmer, they like to hunt at night for crustaceans, octopus, lobsters and crabs. Whitetip reef sharks are social animals who are often found in large groups. This curious species likes to approach swimmers but are relatively harmless.

Whale shark. Delores Johnson / The National 
Whale shark. Delores Johnson / The National 

Whale sharks are the largest fish in the ocean. These graceful, slow moving sharks live up to 70 years, grow to more than 12 metres long and weigh up to 20.6 tonnes, the equivalent to more than eight Range Rovers. They prefer warm waters and their favourite food is plankton.

Blacktip reef shark. Gregory Boissy / AFP
Blacktip reef shark. Gregory Boissy / AFP

Blacktip reef sharks are considered one of the most beautiful shark species, easily recognised by the black tips on their fins. Blacktip reef sharks have a strong social hierarchy and are considered timid around other predators. Nonetheless, they are active hunters that eat small fish, like sardines and herrings, as well as groupers, rays, and smaller sharks.

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Read more:

UAE biodiversity action plan to save sharks from extinction unveiled

Fishermen still catching sharks, despite breeding season ban

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Giant Guitarfish. Andrey Nekrasov / Zuma Wire
Giant Guitarfish. Andrey Nekrasov / Zuma Wire

Bowmouth guitarfish are a rare ray species found in tropical coastal waters in the Indo-Pacific. These strong swimmers like muddy or sandy seafloors where they hunt for bony fish, crustaceans and molluscs. Its fins and meat are highly prized and it is now classified as Vulnerable.

Small tooth sawfish. Torsten Blackwood / AFP
Small tooth sawfish. Torsten Blackwood / AFP

Green sawfish were once the ban of pearl divers in the Gulf, who feared the fish with saw-shaped snouts more than sharks. They were so hunted that to be extinct from UAE waters until fishermen began posting photos of them on Instagram. They have been fully protected in the UAE since 2008.

Cowtail ray. Alamy
Cowtail ray. Alamy

Cowtail rays are lone hunters that can grow up to 1.8 metres long. Like other stingrays, they like shallow coastal waters of warm seas and are usually inactive, burying themselves in the sand and moving with the motion of the tide. They are widely hunted for their leather.

Lemon shark. Valerie Macon / AFP 
Lemon shark. Valerie Macon / AFP 

Sicklefin lemon sharks are stocky, powerful and highly social sharks. They have a social hierarchy based on age and sex that is respected on group hunts. These bottom dwellers churn up the sea floor to catch bony fish, rays and crustaceans. They are considered gentle and non-aggressive towards humans.

Hammerhead shark. Reuters
Hammerhead shark. Reuters

Hammerhead sharks are a group of sharks known for the unusual shape of their heads. Their wide-set eyes allow them scan quickly for their favourite food, the stingray and pin it to the sea floor with their mallet-shaped head. Hammerheads hunt alone and can weigh more than 450 kilograms.

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