A crocodile shark, a marine creature normally found in deep tropical waters, has been discovered washed up on a beach in Devon.
A family found the shark at Hope Cove beach on the south coast and, thinking it was still alive, braved its sharp teeth to try to return it to the water before realising it was dead.
Experts are puzzled how a shark normally found in and around the equator could have reached the British coast. One theory is that it followed a warm, deep water current before reaching cold water in which it could not survive. Another possibility is that it was caught in fishing nets further south and discarded near the British shore.
Steven Greenfields said he was walking with his family at Hope Cove when he spotted the dead fish.
“We regularly visit this beach and have never seen anything like this before,” he said. “My whole family was stunned as the animal had really unusual features but was unmistakably a shark.
“I have experience with sharks whilst swimming and diving overseas, but, despite a fair amount of fishing and swimming in the UK all my life, have never seen any shark in UK waters other than dogfish.”
Photographs of the find were sent to the National Marine Aquarium in Plymouth. The curator James Wright said: “On first inspection of the photos we thought the animal could be a juvenile porbeagle shark, which is found in UK waters. However, we identified numerous traits that suggested it was not any shark usually recorded in UK waters.
“Exploring our network of contacts led to successful identification by Marc Dando, who is a local professional wildlife artist.
“This species has never been recorded in the UK before, as it is normally found in deep waters during the day in tropical climates, such as Brazil and Australia, then coming shallower at night to feed.
“It is likely to be an isolated incident, but there have been similar stranding incidents in South Africa. This time of year though UK waters are at their coldest so this occurrence is very unusual.”
The shark is only around a metre long. Substantial numbers are landed as a bycatch, especially by tuna fleets. In Japan, it is known as the water crocodile because of its teeth and its tendency to snap when out of the water.
It is not considered dangerous to humans but was blamed for damage caused to a deep sea fibre-optic cable between Gran Canaria and Tenerife in the Canary Islands.
Paul Cox, the managing director of the Shark Trust, said: “They are relatively uncommon and the UK is well outside the shark’s usual range so it’s a really interesting find.”
The body of the shark was lost in the attempt to return it to the sea so it could not be examined.