Featured Species: Caribbean Rough Shark (Oxynotus caribbaeus)

This week’s featured species is one of my favorite shark species, despite how little we know about them! The Caribbean Rough Shark (Oxynotus caribbaeus) is a small, deep water shark found in the Caribbean Sea. Their dorsal fins are tall with narrow, triangular tips and concave trailing edges (Ebert, Fowler, & Dando, 2015). Like many small shark species, they have spines along the leading edges of their dorsal fins and the first dorsal spine leans slightly forward. One of the most remarkable characteristics of the Caribbean Rough Shark, is its beautifully marbled skin. They have gray and brown coloration with dark bands, splotches, and small spots that make this species something to behold!


Nakedape (Photographer). (2000). Picture of Caribbean roughshark (Oxynotus caribbaeus) taken from Karl Stanley’s submersible Idabel off Roatan, Honduras [Digital Image]. Retrieved from https://commons.wikimedia.org/

The Caribbean rough shark is a member of the order Squaliformes, which contains over 100 species in seven families including Squalidae (dogfishes), Somniosidae (sleeper sharks), Etmopteridae (lantern sharks), and Oxynotidae (rough sharks) (Parker, 2008). Within family Oxynotidae are five species of rough sharks:

Rough sharks are known for their short stout bodies that have been laterally compressed. Their dorsal fins sit high and have a forward extension along their back with a prominent spine, giving their dorsal fins a distinct sail-like quality. Being a deepwater shark, their eyes are large to help them see in lower light environments. While we don’t know much about their behavior, we can gather that they most likely spend much of their lives at or near the sea floor from their lack of an anal fin- a common characteristic in benthic shark species. The presence of large spiracles and small gills also suggest that they spend time at or near the sea floor (Tricas, et al., 1997). Some sharks and all rays use spiracles, located on the top of the head just behind the eye, to draw oxygenated water from above, rather than passing it over the gills. The rough sharks are also known for their distinct, barbed-wire-like dermal denticles which give the rough sharks their common name (Parker, 2008).


Csotonyi, J. (Artist). (2019). Artist’s Rendering of Oxynotus caribbaeus [Digital Image].

The Caribbean Rough Shark is only found on upper continental slopes from the Gulf of Mexico to Venezuela in the Caribbean Sea (Leandro, 2004). They live at great depths, between 1319 and 1500 feet (402 – 457 m) (Ebert, Fowler, & Dando, 2015). Very little is known about their behavior or life history characteristics. It is suspected that this species is naturally a rare species within its range; however, there is no data regarding current population size or trends (Leandro, 2004).


IUCN (Author). (2004). Geographic Distribution of Caribbean Roughshark [Digital Image]. Retrieved from https://www.iucnredlist.org/

Oxynotids are relatively uncommon in bycatch of pelagic and bottom trawl fisheries (Leandro, 2004). However, their stocks do not appear to be sufficient to support a targeted commercial or recreational fishery. When taken as bycatch, the Caribbean rough shark is utilized for fish meal and their liver oil. They are also occasionally prepared smoked or dried. At present, there is insufficient data available to assess the Caribbean rough shark beyond Data Deficient by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and there are no conservation actions for this species (Leandro, 2004). More information is needed regarding their life history characteristics, ecology, and population size and trends to make further assessments.

Luke Tornabene (Videographer). (2018). Caribbean Rough Shark off the coast of Roatan [Video Clip]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/

I’m delighted to announce a partnership with the wonderfully talented Julius Csotonyi! Julius creates stunning shark coloring sheets that are fun and educational for all ages. From time to time you’ll see Julius’ work featured right here and on my other social media platforms! You can find more coloring sheets in the store! You are welcomed to download these beautiful sheets and enjoy them with family and friends.


Shark Stats

Authority: Cervigón, 1961

Family: Oxynotidae, 5 species

Length: Up to 1.6 feet (0.49 m)

Weight: Maximum weight unknown

Habitat: Upper continental slopes, benthic

Depth: 1319 – 1500 feet (402 – 457 m)

Reproduction: Ovoviviparity

Gestation: Unknown

Litter Range: Unknown

Home Range: Northwest Atlantic in the Caribbean along the Gulf of Mexico to Venezuela

Diet: Small benthic fishes and invertebrates

IUCN Status: Data Deficient

(Leandro, 2004; Parker, 2008; Ebert, Fowler, & Dando, 2015; Skomal, 2016)

The new Ocean For Sharks Shop is open! There’s handmade ocean inspired plush animals, canvas paintings, and of course my children’s book, Winifred the Wondrous Whale Shark, available in print and PDF. Be sure to stop by. Proceeds benefit shark research and conservation with a donation to Project AWARE!

Thanks so much for checking out the stunning Caribbean Rough Shark! If you missed last week’s featured species, please be sure to check out the Blacktip Shark! If there is a species of elasmobranch you’d love to know more about, leave me a comment or send me a message! I would love to do a feature on your favorite species. Also connect with me on Instagram and Facebook for even more elasmo fun!

Conservation legislation needs public support in order to become law and help protect the environment and wildlife. Tell your representatives that you care about environmental and wildlife conservation. It only takes a moment to make a change that will last a lifetime. Until next time finactics!


Featured Image Source

NOAA (Photographer). (n.d.). Caribbean Roughshark from an ROV off Key West, Florida [Digital Image]. Retrieved from https://www.shark-references.com/

Literature Cited

Compagno, L. J. (2001). Sharks of the world. An annotated and illustrated catalogue of shark species known to date, vol 2. Bullhead, mackerel and carpet sharks (Heterodontiformes, Lamniformes and Orectolobiformes). FAO species catalogue for fishery purposes, 1, viii+-1.

Ebert, D. A., Fowler, S. L., & Dando, M. (2015). Sharks of the world: a fully illustrated guide. Wild Nature Press.

Leandro, L. (2004). Oxynotus caribbaeus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Retrieved from https://www.iucnredlist.org/

Parker, S. (2008). The encyclopedia of sharks (2nd ed.). Buffalo, NY: Firefly Books Ltd.

Skomal, G. (2016). The Shark Handbook: The Essential Guide for Understanding the Sharks of the World. (2nd ed.). Kennebunkport, ME: Cider Mill Press.

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