Featured Elasmobranch – Smalltooth Sand Tiger Shark

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Featured Elasmobranch – Smalltooth Sand Tiger Shark

September 2010

Photograph courtesy of Clay Bryce

Smalltooth Sand Tiger Shark

Odontaspis ferox (Risso, 1810)

Family Odontaspididae

Identification: A large, bulky grey-brown shark with a conical snout and a mouth extending ventrally beyond the eyes. The teeth are spine-like and protruding, causing the nickname to be the “ragged-tooth” shark.  The dorsal and anal fins are small and symmetrical, while the caudal fin is asymmetrical. Coloration is gray to brownish-gray or olive above and lighter below; a scattering of dark reddish spots may occur depending on the geographical location of the shark.

Size: A relatively large shark, with females up to 450 cm in length, and males reaching 410 cm in total length. Males mature between 200-250 cm total length, and females mature between 300-350 cm total length. Birth is at about 100 cm total length. This shark is larger and bulkier than the more common sand tiger shark, Carcharius taurus, a morphologically similar species.

Distribution: In the eastern Pacific, this shark occurs from southern California to the Gulf of California. Globally it exhibits a cosmopolitan, yet fragmented distribution, in warm to temperate waters and tropical seas. It can be found on continental and insular shelves as well as upper slopes of all oceans. This shark has been captured in all three major ocean basins and the Mediterranean Sea. It is infrequently caught off the coasts of South Africa, New Zealand and Australia.

Habitat: These sharks are usually found close to or on the bottom along the continental and insular shelves and upper slopes. They are known to range in depth from 10-883 m. They have a wide temperature range, withstanding waters from 6˚C to over 20˚C.

Biology: Reproduction is viviparity, but with oophagy whereby the embryo is nourished by a yolk-sac initially, but with development it begins to ingest other ova deposited into the uterus from the ovaries, supporting its continued development. Litter size is unknown. These sharks feed on demersal bony fishes, other chondrichthyans, squids, and crustaceans.

General Interest: This shark was originally described as Squalus ferox (Risso 1810), but was later placed in the genus Odontaspis. No target fisheries exist, and this species is considered to be uncommon across its distribution. The IUCN status in the Northeastern Pacific Ocean is data deficient. Globally, the IUCN Red List considers this species to be vulnerable. Scuba divers recently photographed and video taped this shark off San Clemente Island in southern California.

By Jennifer S. Bigman
Pacific Shark Research Center
Moss Landing Marine Laboratories
8272 Moss Landing Road
Moss Landing, CA 95039