Biologists and historians are calling for the return of the head and tail of an “exceptionally rare” shark which was found dead on a beach in the New Forest.

The animal, believed to be a smalltooth sand tiger, was found by walkers on Lepe Beach in Hampshire on Saturday.

TV historian Dan Snow saw the shark at the time but said the body parts had been removed when he returned to take it away for biologists to examine it.

He said “trophy hunters” had “chopped the head off” in a video on Twitter.

The broadcaster has now joined calls for its remains to be returned.

He posted on Twitter: “We went to secure the shark for science last night. But we were too late! Please please- of [sic] you have the head get in touch. The scientists want to have a look at it and then it’s yours to keep.”

He added: “Biologist friends like @Ben_garrod identified it as an exceptionally rare visitor to these shores and asked me secure it [sic]. The head, tail and fin were grabbed before I get [sic] assemble a big enough team to drag it off the beach to the nearest road.

“It is not illegal to take parts from dead fish washed ashore so there’s no judging but if you took the head please get in touch, let the scientists have a look and then it’s yours to keep.”

A spokesman for The Shark Trust said the discovery was an “exciting” find.

He said: “Although not able to examine the shark first-hand, several photographs have been circulated, and Shark Trust staff and colleagues identified the shark as a smalltooth sand tiger (Odontaspis ferox).

“Despite their circumglobal distribution, smalltooth sand tigers are seldom encountered and considered naturally rare.

“In the north-east Atlantic their range reaches to the French coast at the top of the Bay of Biscay, making this report an exceptional one.”

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Such sharks can grow to up to 4m in length, according to The Shark Trust.

They tend to be found towards the seabed and feed on small fish and squid, using their long and slender teeth.

The species is “globally vulnerable” with its numbers thought to be in decline, the Trust warned.

The Trust’s spokesman added: “With smalltooth sand tigers likely exceptionally rare visitors north of Biscay, this report is an exciting one.

“And while efforts were made to secure the specimen for research, recent images show that the shark was butchered overnight with the head and tail removed.

“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.

“Sighting records like this help shape our 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.”