Dark Shyshark

Dark shyshark. Photo © Doug Perrine
Dark shyshark. Photo © Doug Perrine

Haploblepharus pictus

This species of shark has an elongated torpedo-shaped body and rarely grows longer than 22 inches from blunt snout to stout caudal (tail) fin. It has an oval cat-like eye and is a yellowish-brown with dark saddles and dark and white spots. A sedentary shark, it prefers the shallow, sandy bottoms off the southern coast of Africa, where it can hunt crustaceans and cephalopods. Considered harmless to humans, when threatened, shy sharks will curl into a loop and hide their faces in their tails.

Order – Carcharhiniformes
Family – Scyliorhinidae
Genus – Haploblepharus
Species – pictus

Common Names

Importance to Humans

Dark shyshark. Photo © Doug Perrine
Dark shyshark. Photo © Doug Perrine

Although not important commercially, this shark is captured in local subsistence fisheries. This species is often caught with rod and reel by recreational surf anglers. However, it is considered a little-utilized species due to its small size. It is probably discarded from bottom trawlers and by recreational fishers as bycatch due to its reputation as a minor pest species (Ellis. 2000).

Danger to Humans

The dark shyshark poses little threat to humans due to its small size and feeding habits (Compagno, et.al., 2005).


The dark shyshark is listed as “least concern” with the World Conservation Union (IUCN). The IUCN is a global union of states, governmental agencies, and non-governmental organizations in a partnership that assesses the conservation status of species. This small catshark resides in a very limited range off the coast of southern Africa. This region is heavily fished and has potentially degraded inshore water quality. If fishing increases in inshore waters or habitat is further degraded, the population of this endemic species could be greatly impacted.

> Check the status of the dark shyshark at the IUCN website.

Geographical Distribution

World distribution map for the dark shyshark
World distribution map for the dark shyshark

This species resides in the waters of the southeast Atlantic Ocean from Namibia to southwestern Cape Province, South Africa (Ellis. 2000).


This small demersal shark inhabits inshore waters of the continental shelf and is most commonly observed in shallow sandy-bottom habitats (Ellis. 2000).

Dark shyshark. Photo © Doug Perrine
Dark shyshark. Photo © Doug Perrine


Distinctive Features

Stout body and broad head, this species, as with all members of Scyliorhinidae, possess rudimentary nictitating lower eyelids. The anterior nasal flaps are subtriangular and do not overlap the mouth posteriorly. The gills slits are located dorsolaterally on each side of the body. The origin of the first dorsal fin is located in front of the pelvic fin insertions.

Yellowish-brown with dark markings and a few larger lighter colored spots lacking black margins. There are seven dark brown to black dorsal saddles. The fins are yellowish-brown in color (Compagno, et.al., 2005).


Ventral mouth, possessing several rows of multi-cuspid teeth (Ellis. 2000).

Size, Age, and Growth

The maximum reported length is 57cm (22.4 in.) total length (TL) (Compagno. 2005).

Food Habits

Feed on small bottom-dwelling fish, crustaceans, and cephalopods (Ellis. 2000).


Oviparous with one egg released per oviduct. The egg cases are 2.4 inches (6cm) in length and 1.2 inches (3cm) wide. In captivity, one egg case hatched in approximately 3.5 months (Vas. 1995).

Potential predators include large fish including sharks as well as marine mammals (Compagno, et. al., 2005).


A parasite found in the blood of the dark shyshark (and its close relative the puffadder shyshark) is the trypanosome Trypanosoma haploblephari. It is the first species of trypanosome described from sharks residing in South African waters (Yield et al., 2006).


Müller & Henle originally described the dark shyshark as Scyllium pictum in 1838. This name was later changed to the currently valid scientific name of Haploblepharus pictus Müller & Henle 1838. Johannes Peter Müller (1801-1858) was a German physiologist and comparative anatomist with a keen interest in fishes and marine invertebrates. Friedrich G. J. Henle (1807-1885) was also a German physiologist as well as a pathologist and histologist.

The genus name Haploblepharus is derived from the Greek “haploos” meaning single and “blepharos” meaning eyelash. Scyliorhinidae is the largest shark family with at least 15 genera and over 110 species. They are known as catsharks due to their elongated cat-like eyes, although a few species are referred to as dogfish.

Revised by: Kiersten Meigs 2020

Prepared by: Cathleen Bester