Fisherman in California hooks rare angel shark

What a catch!

A group of fishermen in California were shocked when a member of their group hooked one of the “rarest” sharks in the world during a recent excursion in the high seas — though they soon released it back into the water after a few essential photos.

On March 27, a day crew charter aboard Dana Wharf Sportfishing’s Reel Fun was shocked when one of the anglers reeled in a highly elusive angel shark, the Orange County Register reported.

“We were fishing in some pretty shallow water,” Capt. Frank Brennan told the outlet. “He dropped the line with a piece of squid on it and hooked an angel shark.”

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After snapping a few obligatory pictures, the group released the creature back into the ocean.

“They’re cool animals,” Brennan told the OC Register of the discovery. “They do have sharp teeth but if you’re in the water with them they won’t bother you.”

Angel sharks lie on the ocean floor and blend into their surroundings. Their gills are under their head so they avoid detection. They also have flattened bodies and broad pectoral fins that give them a strong resemblance to rays.

Jim Serpa, a former supervising ranger at Doheny State Beach, said it was much more common to see angel sharks in the ’70s and ’80s, but “rumor is they were overfished and sold as something they weren’t.”

A market for angel sharks was developed in 1977 by Michael Wagner, a fish processor in Santa Barbara. By 1985, fisheries had killed nearly 90,000 of them. In response to the decline in population, they are now regulated.

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As noted by the Angel Shark Conservation Network, the genus is currently considered to be one of the “rarest” sharks on Earth. The flat-bodied creatures – who have gills beneath their head – can grow to be nearly 8 feet in length, and swim near the ocean floor, and often blend into their surroundings.

Angel sharks used to be fairly common across the Atlantic and Mediterranean seas but a disrupted habitat, pollution and overfishing have been contributing to their demise, according to the Zoological Society of London (ZSL). Scientists hope recent sightings – such as a detection in late January off the coast of Wales – will help provide clues to the species' behavior and preferred habitat and, in turn, help save the mysterious sharks from extinction.

"Angel sharks are important to the marine environment as they are a top predator and are listed as the fifth most Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered shark in the world, representing a distinct branch of the tree of life," the ZSL explains on its website.

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"If we lose the angel shark, we lose a really important lineage of evolutionary history that we can't get from any other shark species," Joanna Barker, a marine biologist with the ZSL, told BBC News.

Fox News’ Jennifer Earl contributed to this report.