British conservationists appealed Monday for trophy hunters who took the head of a rare Smalltooth Sandtiger Shark, like the one pictured here, to hand it in so that they can study and catalog it. File Photo by Palickap/Wikimedia Commons
March 20 (UPI) -- British scientists and conservationists have issued an urgent appeal for trophy hunters to hand in the head and teeth of a rare shark that washed up on a beach on the country's South coast so that they can study it.
Believed to be a Smalltooth Sandtiger Shark, the 8 ft-long predator which was intact when it was first spotted on Saturday and reported to the Zoological Society of London, was minus its head, tail and fin when locals went to the beach to recover it.
Appealing for its return broadcaster and historian Dan Snow told the BBC it was a "once-in-a-lifetime" find of an "incredibly valuable shark."
"Scientists say that no shark of this species, of this scale, has ever washed up on U.K. shores before," said Snow.
He said that the people who had taken the head were welcome to keep their find but urged them to come forward to allow scientists to get a good look at it first.
Calling the find "exceptional," Plymouth-based Shark Trust said in a statement that despite being found all around the world Smalltooth Sandtigers were an increasingly rare species classified as Vulnerable. In the Northeast Atlantic, the limit of their range extends no further than the French coast at the top of the Bay of Biscay.
One of the larger sharks -- growing to 13 feet in length -- Smalltooth Sandtigers use their slim, sharp teeth to kill small fish and squid, according to the statement.
"Usually found towards the seabed, this is a globally Vulnerable species, with numbers thought to be in decline," the trust said.
"The head in particular holds the key to unlocking intricate details of the shark's life, even from before birth, so we'd welcome news of its whereabouts."
The not-for-profit trust, which lobbies to protect sharks through conservation, fisheries management and tackling the trade in shark products, said sighting records helped it shape its knowledge of species distributions.
"This sighting may have been a vagrant but by maintaining records of occasional finds, new patterns may start to emerge -- making all records important."
Legislation to protect sharks is currently before the upper house of the British parliament, which could pass it into law as soon as Friday. The Shark Fins Bill tightens import and export laws, banning the trade in detached fins in and out of Britain.
The European Union and Britain banned shark-finning, the biggest threat to sharks and rays, in 2003. A Fins Naturally Attached policy, where shark fins can only be harvested attached to a whole shark, was adopted in 2009 in Britain and 2013 in the EU.