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Gregory R. Mann, Ph.D. {ret.}

Caribbean Roughshark

“Oxynotus caribbaeus”

The Caribbean Roughshark is a small, rare shark that stays close to the ocean bottom in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea. Little is known about the life history of this enigmatic species, which was described in 1961 yet was only lately observed in its natural environment. Like the other four members of the Oxynotus genus, which together comprise the Angular Roughshark family (Oxynotidae), this deep-sea creature is an unusual, chubby-looking fish that looks nothing like your typical, torpedo-shaped shark. It has a short, blunt snout, two high dorsal fins bearing sharp spines, a compressed body with a triangular in cross-section, and atypically large dermal denticles that make the skin feel very rough. The light, grayish skin is patterned with dark bands and blotches spread over the head, body, and tail, which are separated from prominent lighter areas over the pectoral and pelvic fins. Adult males reach a maximum size of only .5 meters (1.7 feet) long. As is typical, females are thought to grow even longer than the males. Recently, a photographer captured spectacular footage of a free-swimming Caribbean Roughshark in its natural habitat. The images were taken off the coast of Honduras from a deep-diving submarine, whose mission is to enable public access to the little-explored, fascinating environment of the deep ocean. The Caribbean Roughshark can be found in the western central Atlantic Ocean. Its geographic distribution encompasses the waters off of the Bahamas, Honduras, Venezuela and possibly elsewhere in the Caribbean Sea.

The habitat of this shark is the upper continental slopes of that range. It has been recorded at depths of approximately 400 to 600 meters (1,300 to 2,000 feet), but it may occupy shallower or deeper water. This species has an unusual dentition, with spear-shaped upper teeth and blade-like teeth in the lower jaw. Most likely this shark feeds on bottom invertebrates and fishes, but for now its diet remains unobserved. Literally nothing is known about the behavior of the Caribbean Roughshark. Based on the known biology, this species must have an ovoviviparous breeding system. That means that it gives birth to live pups that develop after hatching from eggs inside the mother. This species is not the target of fisheries. Such sharks are an uncommon by-catch because they occupy deeper waters and stick close to the sea bottom. If caught accidentally, Caribbean Roughsharks are sometimes processed for fish meal and oil and are also preserved for human consumption by smoking and salting.

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