Cuban Dogfish

Squalus cubensis - Cuban Dogfish

Cuban dogfish. Photo © George Burgess

Squalus cubensis

This slender, schooling shark prefers deeper, warm waters of the Western Atlantic where it eats smaller bony fish and invertebrates and can grow to around 43 inches long. It has large eyes set close to its pointed snout, spines at the front of each dorsal fin, and a lobed, asymmetrical caudal (tail) fin. Dark gray-brown on top and fading to white underneath, it has dark dorsal fins and light or white edges to all of its fins. Despite its dorsal spines, it is considered harmless to humans because of its size and deep sea habitat.

Order - Squaliformes
Family - Squalidae
Genus - Squalus
Species - cubensis

Common Names

English language common names include Cuban dogfish and puppyshark dogfish. Other common names include aiguillat cubain (French), cação (Portuguese), Cação-bagre (Portuguese), Cação-de-espinho (Portuguese), Cação-espinhoso (Portuguese), Cação-olho-de-gato (Portuguese), Cação-prego (Portuguese), Cazón aguijón cubano (Spanish), Cubaanse doornhaai (Dutch), Cubansk pigghaj (Swedish), Cubansk pighaj (Swedish), galludo (Spanish), galludo cubano (Spanish), Kubansk pigghaj (Swedish), and parra (Spanish).

Importance to Humans

Cuban dogfish are fished commercially primarily in the northern Gulf of Mexico in the trawl net fishery. They are captured for their large liver due to its rich oil and vitamin content, however it is seldom used for human consumption.

Danger to Humans

Although the Cuban dogfish has dorsal fin spines which are capable of causing painful wounds to humans, this species is considered harmless due to its small size and its preference to deep waters. There have been no unprovoked shark attacks by Cuban dogfish according to the International Shark Attack Files.


Catch statistics are sparsely reported for the Cuban dogfish and little is known about its population status. What little data is available comes from this dogfish as a bycatch of artisanal and commercial fisheries in the Caribbean region. Catches need to be monitored as deepwater fisheries are expanding throughout the world. Overfishing may well pose a threat to the Cuban dogfish in the near future.

The Cuban dogfish is currently assessed as "Data Deficient" by the World Conservation Union (IUCN) due to the lack of data available on worldwide catch rates and abundance. The IUCN is a global union of states, governmental agencies, and non-governmental organizations in a partnership that assesses the conservation status of species.

> Check the status of the Cuban dogfish at the IUCN website.

Geographical Distribution

Squalus cubensis - Cuban Dogfish, Map

World distribution map for the Cuban dogfish

Cuban dogfish reside in the subtropical western Atlantic Ocean from North Carolina to Florida in the US. It also lives in the northern Gulf of Mexico from Mexico east to Florida. Off the coast of South America, it is found off southern Brazil and Argentina. This dogfish also inhabits Caribbean waters near Cuba, Hispaniola (Domincan Republic and Haiti).


Indigenous to deep waters, the Cuban dogfish prefers warm to tropical waters. It is found close to the bottom in large dense schools, primarily along the outer Continental Shelf and uppermost slopes at depths from 200-1,250 feet (60-380 m).

Squalus cubensis diagram

Cuban dogfish (Squalus cubensis). Illustration courtesy FAO, Species Identification and Biodata

Distinguishing Characteristics

1. Two dorsal fins with large spines

2. First dorsal spine about as long as dorsal fin base

3. Pectoral fins are falcate with angular free rear tips and concave posterior margins

4. Anal fin absent


Squalus cubensis - Cuban Dogfish

Cuban dogfish. Photo © George Burgess

Distinctive Features
The Cuban dogfish has a slender body with subangular snout. The eyes are closer to the tip of the snout than the first gill slit. It has long ungrooved spines at the front edge of both dorsal fins. The first dorsal spine originates in front of pectoral fin rear tips and is approximately as long as the base of the first dorsal fin. The second dorsal fin is markedly smaller than the first dorsal fin. The pectoral fins are falcate and have strongly concave posterior margins. The anal fin is absent, as in all dogfish. The caudal fin is narrowly lobed and moderately long with a long ventral lobe. There is no subterminal notch on the caudal fin. There is a well-developed upper precaudal pit and lateral keels on the caudal peduncle.

Cuban Dogfish looks like a longnose spurdog

The longnose spurdog (above) is sometimes confused with the Cuban dogfish. Photo © George Burgess

Due to their limited distribution and ease of recognition, the Cuban dogfish is rarely confused with other species. However, it may be sometimes confused with the longnose spurdog (Squalus blainvillei). The longnose spurdog has pectoral fins with rounded free rear tips while the Cuban dogfish's pectoral fins have pointed free rear tips.

The spiny dogfish (Squalus acanthias) and the roughskin dogfish (Cirrhigaleus asper) have a first dorsal fin originating over or posterior to the free rear tips of the pectoral fins. The Cuban dogfish has a first dorsal fin that originates anterior to the free rear tips of the pectoral fins.

The dorsal surface is gray-brown in color fading to a white ventral surface. There are no white spots on the body of this species. The tips of the two dorsal fins are dark and all fins have lightly colored to white edges.

Squalus cubensis - Cuban Dogfish

Cuban dogfish: ventral view of head region. Photo © George Burgess

Cuban dogfish teeth are strongly oblique, smooth-edged cusps with a strong notch on their outer margins forming a nearly continuous cutting edge. The teeth are similar in both the upper and lower jaws with 26 teeth in each jaw (U 13-13, L 13-13).

The denticles located laterally along the trunk of the Cuban dogfish are small,unicuspidate, and lanceolate with a strong central ridge that divides anteriorly into two or three ridges with broad extensions on either side of the central ridge.

Squalus cubensis - Cuban Dogfish

Cuban dogfish reach a maximum total length of approximately 43.3 inches. Photo © George Burgess

Size, Age & Growth
The maximum reported size of the Cuban dogfish is approximately 43.3 inches (110 cm) total length with the average adult size about 29.5 inches (75 cm) total length. Sexual maturity is obtained at lengths of 19.7 inches (50 cm).

Food Habits
Although very little is known about the food habits of the Cuban dogfish, it is believed that it feeds on small fish and benthic invertebrates.

Cuban dogfish reproduce ovoviviparously. Each litter consists of approximately 10 pups. Young Cuban dogfish reside in shallower waters along the Continental shelf rather than in the deeper water where mature Cuban dogfish live.

Potential predators of the Cuban dogfish include marine mammals and large fish including other sharks.

Cuban dogfish have an unusual huge isopod parasite that lives in its buccal cavity.


The Cuban dogfish was originally described by Howell Riviero in 1936 as Squalus cubensis. It is a member of the Squalidae to which the dogfish sharks belong. The genus name Squalus is derived from the Latin "squalidus" meaning pale and weak. There are no known synonyms used to refer to this species in past scientific literature.

Prepared by: Cathleen Bester