Photographs copyright Andy
Murch. All rights reserved.
all images of Soupfin Sharks
Shark Pictures Database
shark, school shark.
Slender plain grey/tan upper body.
Belly in front of pelvic fins pale. Demarcation line may be smooth or mottled. Snout
long and pointed. Very small anterior nasal flaps. Triangular first dorsal.
Second dorsal much smaller than first. Lower caudal lobe very long and well
defined. Well developed upper caudal lobe with extremely pronounced upper caudal
Juveniles have black markings on fins.
Maximum recorded size: Male 175cm. Female 195cm. 30-40cm at birth. Size varies
Shallow, inshore sandy bays to deep continental drop offs. Sometimes in kelp forests.
Surface to 471m. Usually near bottom.
Broad ranging but rarely oceanic. Soupfin sharks can be found in the North
Atlantic from Iceland to Norway and south to northwest Africa including all of
the Mediterranean Sea. Possibly also along the coast of tropical Western Africa.
In the Southern Atlantic soupfins are present throughout temperate western
Africa and off of South America from Chile to Brazil.
In the Pacific, soupfins range from Northern Canada to Baja and along most of
the South American coast. Also Hawaii and Australia and New Zealand.
Bony fishes and invertebrates.
Often forms small
schools. Migrates from deep water into shallow bays at night to hunt.
without yolk sac placenta.
Recorded litter size 6-52. Gestation approximately 12 months.
La Jolla Shores, Southern California.
Conservation Status: The IUCN lists the spotted gully shark as 'Vulnerable': "G. galeus has a long history of exploitation in target fisheries
in most parts of its range where the species has been in demand for liver-oil,
meat and fins. The main threat to the various populations of G. galeus is from
targeting widely with gillnets and longlines. Minor threats include fishing with
trawls and other methods. There is accidental capture of pups on nursery grounds
in gillnets of small mesh-size and recreational fishers operating in inshore
shallow-water areas. Habitat degradation in potential nursery areas due to
development and siltation may also negatively affect recruitment to populations
of this species. Other threats are habitat degradation by the effects of
trawling through disturbance of substrates (Walker 1998) and installation of
high voltage direct current sub-sea cables with induced magnetic and electric
fields across their migration lanes (Walker 2001).
In south-eastern Australia, the harvest of G. galeus began in the mid-1920s, but
increased markedly during the war years with the market for shark liver oil.
Catches levelled off at about 2,000 t live weight during 1949 to 1957 with the
decline of the liver market and as the fishery spread from inshore to offshore
waters (Olsen 1959). Establishment of the shark meat market and the introduction
of gillnets in 1964, production rose rapidly to peak during 1969 at 3,158 t.
Following a ban on the sale of large school sharks in 1972 because of high
mercury levels, catches declined for about 10 years. With relaxation of the
mercury laws catches again increased, reaching 3,060 t during 1986. Since 1986,
the total annual catch from the Southern Shark Fishery had declined to 172 t by
2001 (Walker 1999, Walker et al. 2002). The mature biomass has been estimated
from age-based model outputs to be below 20% of the level before commercial
target fishing began (Punt et al. 2000).
In New Zealand, G. galeus have been exploited since the mid-1940s. With the
demise of the liver oil fishery in the 1950s, a market for the meat developed
(some is exported to Australia) and catches peaked at 5,000 t live weight in
1984 (Francis 1998, Paul and Sanders 2001). Catch levels have been ~3,000 t for
the past decade, but it is not known if this, or the current commercial TACs
(3,107 t), are sustainable, or if they are at levels that will allow the stocks
to move towards a size that will support the maximum sustainable yield.
In this region mean annual individual fecundity is only seven pups, age at first
breeding is about 13 years in both sexes, and natural mortality rate is low as
evidenced from the longevity of 40 years (Peres and Vooren 1991, Ferreira and
Vooren 1991). These parameter values characterize the species as susceptible to
recuitment overfishing. In Uruguay the species was fished intensively in the
1940s for liver oil. The southwestern Atlantic population of the species has
been subject to intensive fishing in its entire area of distribution since about
1985. Statistics of the fishery CPUE in south Brazil and Uruguay are evidence
that as a result of intensive fishing from 1985 the abundance of the species had
decreased by 85% in 1997, and the fishery in this region continues without
restraint (Miranda and Vooren 2003). Since 1995 the species has disappeared in
the coastal fishery off Uruguay (A. Domingo unpublished data). The species
migrates seasonally between wintering grounds in south Brazil and Uruguay and
summer grounds off Argentina where the pupping and nursery areas are situated,
where intense and directed fishery of gravid females occurs and where critical
habitat is known to have been lost (e.g., Bahía Blanca and El Rincón). Yields in
Argentina dropped sharply after intensive fishing and high landings in the years
1988 to 1992 (Chiaramonte 1998). Since then declines have continued. The
declared landings for ?sharks+cazón? in the SAGyP statistics (the national
authority for fisheries in Argentina), and in which G. galeus comprises most of
these landings, show overall declines of over 80% between 1992 (4,012 t) and
2004 (757 t), with landings around 1,000t or less since 2000, yet in the
mid-1980s the landings were >5,000 t. These declines are attributed to
recruitment overfishing and if the fishery continues, the population will very
likely be extirpated. Despite this, in the late 1990s new access to the fishery
was granted to a large number of artisanal fishermen (at present around 700 are
registered in Buenos Aires province), and no management is in place.
In South Africa Galeorhinus galeus is targeted (mainly when catches from other
non-elasmobranch fisheries are low) in longline and handline fisheries and taken
incidentally in artisanal and recreational fisheries. In 2003, 23 permits were
issued to shark fishermen, however no seasonal/temporal
restrictions have been placed on the fishery nor on number or size of G. galeus
landed. Kroese and Sauer (1998) determined that the landed catch of soupfin
shark between 1992 and 1994 reached a peak of 48 t (1994, dressed carcass
weight) and a minimum of 5.2 t in 1993. Anecdotal evidence suggests that CPUE of
soupfin sharks has declined in the last 15 years (G. Kingma, soupfin shark
longline fishermen, Hout Bay, Western Province, pers. comm. February, 2003) and
data from the South African Shark Management Plan (MCM 2002) indicates that the
annual commercial linefish catch of soupfin shark has significantly declined,
from a peak of 249 t in 1992 to 71 t in 1999. It is unclear whether this is due
to a change in target species, change in effort, or change in the population
size. According to Freer (1992), 41.6% of total catch by mass in the Gansbaai
longline fishery is female, 87.4% of which are immature females. This indicates
that a relatively high number of immature females are being extracted from the
population, thereby possibly influencing future recruitment (Freer 1992).
Similar to other populations of soupfin shark, those in South Africa segregate
according to sex and size. This combined with life-history parameters make these
sharks vulnerable to over-exploitation. There are indications that the South
African population is currently being fully exploited and any increase in
fishing pressure may result in a decline of biomass to below 40% of the
pre-exploitation condition (McCord 2005).
Tope is of limited commercial importance in commercial fisheries in the
Northeast Atlantic where it is typically a bycatch of mixed demersal and pelagic
fisheries, especially French vessels fishing in the English Channel, Western
Approaches and northern Bay of Biscay. Data is apparently limited, as landings
data are often included as "dogfishes and hounds". Nevertheless, England and
France have species-specific landings data and there are limited data from
Denmark and Ireland in recent years (ICES 2004). France appears to target tope,
and reported landings of approximately 350 to 500 t/year during the 1990s
(landings were higher in 1987 at 600 t, some 6% of the total shark catches, with
tope ranking third behind spurdog and lesser spotted dogfish). Tope also feature
in catch statistics for Portugal Mainland and in the Azores. In the Azores this
species is a bycatch of the demersal longline fishery. Biological data for
Northeast Atlantic stocks are limited (SGRST 2002).
Tope is important in recreational fisheries with some anglers specializing in
tope catching. Recently, a newspaper article (Fishing News, June 17th 2005)
urged English North Sea fishermen to target tope for meat and for the fin trade
out of Lowestoft, East Anglia. This has raised cause for concern, including
among the recreational fishers (see www.sharktrust.org for further details). The
value of this species for recreational angling on the south coast of England
(and presumably elsewhere off the UK) is high.
Although no direct fisheries for G. galeus exist in the Mediterranean, it was
traditionally caught as bycatch in gillnets and trammel nets in the Northern
Adriatic Sea, also as bycatch of semi-industrial (Adriatic Sea and Sicily) and
artisanal fisheries in pelagic and demersal nets, deep longlines, drift lines
and troll lines (Fisher et al. 1987). A small directed gillnet fishery targeting
Mustelus spp. and Squalus spp. operated off the Balearic Islands in the past
which reported catches of G. galeus. In recent times, only bottom trawl and
longline fisheries have reported continuous bycatch of G. galeus, and such
reports are very rare nowadays. The development of the bottom trawl fisheries in
the Mediterranean over the first half of the 20th century in the northern range,
and during the latter half in the southern range, is considered as one of the
principal factors responsible of the decline of many demersal elasmobranch
species. In this sense, both overfishing and habitat degradation must be
considered as factors potentially responsible for declines. The analysis of the
Medits trawl survey data from 1994?1999 shows a very low frequency of occurrence
for G. galeus in the Mediterranean (only five positive hauls or 0.05 %),
although it should be noted that trawling is a minor threat to this species and
numbers in trawl surveys would not be expected to be high. Its overall biomass
was estimated to be 0.2 kg/km² for the Mediterranean. The standing stock biomass
was estimated at 126 t (0.23%) (Baino et al. 2001). Off Italy, Relini et al.
(2000) reported the capture of G. galeus in only one of the 11 zones studied as
part of the Italian national project (9,281 hauls in total, around the Italian
coast, from 1985?1998), although data on biomass for this species were not
provided. Tuna trap data from the Northern Tyrrhenian Sea from 1898 to 1992
shows a dramatic decrease in the abundance of G. galeus catches (80 individuals
between 1898 and 1905; only eight for the 1906 to 1913 period and 0 from 1914 to
1922) (Vacchi et al. 2002). Thus, these data can perhaps be interpreted as an
indication of early depletion of the population at least in shallow waters in
this area, which could also have occurred in other Mediterranean areas where
similar practices historically operated. Data from the Medits survey for the
Adriatic Sea were compared with those from the survey Hvar, carried out in 1948
(Jukic-Peladic 2001). Although no data on individual species captured biomass
are reported, G. galeus appeared in the 1948 survey, but not in the Medits
survey. Data on elasmobranch landings from the long-line fleet at the Palma de
Mallorca (Balearic Islands) central fish auction wharf reported only one
specimen in 1996 (B. Reviriego pers.comm.), six in 1999 (G. Morey pers.comm.)
and recent regular visits have reported no further specimens. In addition, G.
galeus was not specifically reported in the official landing statistics, since
it did not appear in the 1999 to 2001 period, thus furthering the difficulties
in monitoring of the population. For the Spanish long-line fleet off the
Levantine coast, operating mainly in the Alboran Sea and around the Balearic
Islands, the observed catch rate (as bycatch) of G. galeus is about five
specimens per ship and year (D. Macías pers.comm.) In Tunisian waters, where
there exists a lower fishing pressure than off the northern Mediterranean
coasts, the species is considered to be very rare (Bradai 2000).
Eastern North Pacific
In the Northeast Pacific the shark fishery off California rapidly expanded
during the 1930s due to the demand for liver-oil. Catches increased, peaking at
4,185 t in 1939 with around 75 to 80% of the catch being G. galeus and prices
for the liver-oil rose from some US$50/t in 1937 to US$2,000/t in 1941 (Ripley
1946). While the fishery was intensive and expanded rapidly it only lasted eight
years, during which CPUE was reported to decline dramatically. Although the
fishery collapsed in the 1940s (due primarily to the synthetic production of
Vitamin A) it seems unlikely that the stock itself collapsed. Only the large
animals were being targeted, with 10-inch mesh size, fishermen were not
interested in catching the young animals, which had lower grade Vitamin A in the
liver oil. Therefore while it appeared that the adult stock might have collapsed
there would have been large stocks of juveniles to allow for a population
recovery. Since the 1940s given the low price for soupfin shark and low interest
in the meat there has been no economic incentive to target it, and it is now
caught at low levels as bycatch with bottom and pelagic gillnets, bottom and
pelagic longlines, bottom and pelagic trawls, and with hook-and-line. (Ripley
1946, Ebert 2003, Compagno in prep b). Thus although there has been no stock
assessment for over 50 years, the fishing mortality can be expected to be low.
Cailliet et al. (1992) reported the fishery over the past several decades had
remained fairly steady, even declining due to increasing fishing restrictions.
CITATION: Walker, T.I., Cavanagh, R.D., Stevens, J.D.,
Carlisle, A.B., Chiaramonte, G.E., Domingo, A., Ebert, D.A., Mancusi, C.M.,
Massa, A., McCord, M., Morey, G., Paul, L.J., Serena, F. & Vooren, C.M. 2006.
Galeorhinus galeus. In: IUCN 2013. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version
Because of the tope shark's extremely extensive range, it overlaps with many
similar species including many smoothhound species. Identification is further
complicated by fishermen that lump all species together under the heading of 'tollo'
or 'cazon' etc. Smoothhounds generally have much larger nasal flaps and a less
pronounced lower caudal lobe.
Reaction to divers:
Very skittish. Difficult to approach while free diving and almost impossible to
get close on scuba. Any noise or camera flashes are generally enough to make
this shark flee. Best results have been to free dive in shallow water where
topes can be seen congregating and then hide behind a rock or kelp until they
Experiments with carrying chum to bring the sharks closer were completely
unsuccessful. Perhaps the sharks are not there to feed or perhaps the sharks
feel too threatened to accept food while in the presence of snorkelers.
The best place that we have found to encounter soupfin sharks is just south of
the Marine Room Restaurant at La Jolla Shores, Southern California. During the
summer months, soupfins enter into very shallow water. However, when exactly
this shark is likely to appear is difficult to estimate but once they arrive
they generally stay for a while so it would be worth keeping an eye on sightings
through divebums.com, scubadivergirls.com and other San Diego based diving
Big Fish Expeditions: