Lesser-Spotted Catshark (Scyliorhinus canicular)

Common names; Rough-hound, lesser-spotted dogfish or Morgay (in Scotland and Cornwall)

These small catsharks reside along uppermost slopes and continental shelves off the Norwegian coast, in the British Isles, Senegal and the Mediterranean Sea. Gravel areas, sandy and muddy bottoms are prime location areas, often at a depth of 10-400 meters. The catshark is one of the most abundant elasmobranchs in the Mediterranean Sea and Northeast Atlantic.

Description: Juveniles are more often found in shallower water, usually in small groups segregated by sex. They have small slender bodies with a blunt head, elongated eyes and a rounded snout. The anterior nasal flaps reach down to the mouth and cover the nasoral grooves. They have five pairs of gill slits along the side of the upper body, the last two sets overlap the pectoral fins. On top, they have two spineless dorsal fins, the first one being larger than the second. At the rear, they have one anal fin, which is small. The skin is rough in texture. They have a dorsal surface which is grayish-brown and is patterned through-out with many small dark or lighter spots. The lesser spotted cat shark has around 8-10 saddle patches along the length, while the ventral side is much lighter gray to even white in colour.

Feeding Habits: They are nocturnal, opportunistic predators, searching for food by night and staying motionless throughout daylight hours, camouflaged well into their surroundings. Their diet consists of invertebrates, small bony fish such as gobies, juvenile mullets, damsel fish, pilchards and tunicates. Occasionally they will try to catch gurnards or even whiting. Younger animals prefer crustaceans, while hermit crabs and molluscs are preferred by older animals. During summer months when prey is readily available, feeding intensity is high. Both male and female have similar feeding habits, although diet composition varies with body size. The juvenile catsharks anchor prey on the dermal denticles near their tail. Thus, tearing bite-sized chunks off with rapid jaw and head movements. This type of feeding behaviour is known as “scale rasping”.

Reproduction: The female cat shark lays two large egg cases (in pairs) amongst macroalgae in shallow water. The egg case is protected by a horny capsule with long tendrils and measures approx. 4cm by 2cm, but never exceed 6cm.  Up to 18-20 egg cases maybe released during each reproductive season. The peak months are June and July.  During this period, the eggs are dependant only on the egg yolk for nutrition until they hatch, which takes around 5-11 months, depending on sea temperature. The small baby neonates measure appro. 9 – 10cm when born. Spawning can take place almost year- round, however seasonal patterns are noted, varying in different locations. Males reach sexual maturity with a length of about 37.1 – 48.8 cm, females with a length of 36.4 – 46.7 cm.

Human Consumption and Threat: They are completely harmless to the human being, being too small to cause any problems. The maximum reported size is approx. 100 cm and weighs in just under 3 pounds (1,320 g). Their life span is around 12 years. Catsharks, often caught by near-shore fisheries and recreational fisherman are discarded back to the sea. It has a low commercial value, but has been used recently in UK fish and chip shops, being sold as rock salmon, rock eel or sweet William. Other areas offer it baked or in fish soup, but must be skinned and filleted before use.

Predators: Larger fish, including sharks are potential predators to the small cat shark species as well as local fisherman.

Sharklab Malta: Here in Malta, the eggs are kept in captivity and later released back into the ocean where they belong. By helping to conserve and spread awareness about these species, and many others, there is hope for their survival in an ever-changing ocean. If you wish to learn more about these species and others, click the link here: http://www.sharklab-malta.org/

Photo is credited to Adrian Sharky, please check out his website here: http://www.sharky1.com/

Divesites: Cirkewwa