Brown shyshark (Haploblepharus fuscus)

GenusHaploblepharus (1)
SizeLength: up to 73 cm (2)

The brown shyshark is classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List (1).

A small and uniformly dark brown shark, with a paler underside and sometimes faint saddle marks, the brown shyshark (Haploblepharus fuscus) has a rather stout body with a broad head, large nasal flaps, and the elongated, cat-like eyes typical of the catshark family. The two dorsal fins are of equal size, and the first is located just over midway down the body, just behind the pelvic fins. The anal fin is of a similar size to the dorsal fins, while the tail (caudal) fin is fairly short and broad (2) (3) (4) (5).

The brown shyshark has a rather limited range in the western Indian Ocean, where it is endemic to the waters around South Africa (1) (2) (3) (4).

The brown shyshark is locally common in shallow, temperate waters on rocky reefs, to depths of around 133 metres (2) (3) (6). It is reported to rest on the bottom during the day (6).

The diet of the brown shyshark includes lobsters and small fish (2) (3) (4), and it may also feed on crabs, cuttlefish and worms (6). Like most other catsharks, it lays eggs (2) (3) (4) (7), which usually take the form of rectangular egg cases, often with long tendrils at the corners (7). Two eggs may be laid at a time (3). The male brown shyshark reaches sexual maturity at around 63 to 69 centimetres in length, and the female at 60 to 73 centimetres (2) (4).

The common name of this and other ‘shysharks’, also known as ‘shy-eyes’, comes from the peculiar habit of coiling the body up with the tail held over the eyes when the shark is caught (2) (3) (4) (7). This defensive behaviour may help deter predators from swallowing the shark (6).

Although a locally common species, which is not targeted by commercial fisheries or caught for its meat (1) (2) (3), the brown shyshark inhabits heavily fished and potentially degraded inshore waters (1) (3). Its status is not well known, but the species is likely to occur as bycatch, both in coastal fisheries and by sports anglers, and may also be threatened by habitat degradation and pollution (1) (3). The brown shyshark’s very limited range makes it particularly vulnerable, with any threats likely to affect the whole population (1).

There are currently no conservation measures known to be in place for the brown shyshark (3). More research may be needed into the impacts of bycatch and habitat degradation if this small shark is to be protected and any appropriate conservation measures put into place.

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  1. IUCN Red List (April, 2011)
  2. Compagno, L.J.V. (1984) Sharks of the World. An Annotated and Illustrated Catalogue of Shark Species Known to Date. Vol. 4: Part 2: Carcharhiniformes. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome. Available at:
  3. Fowler, S.L., Cavanagh, R.D., Camhi, M., Burgess, G.H., Cailliet, G.M., Fordham, S.V., Simpfendorfer, C.A. and Musick, J.A. (2005) Sharks, Rays and Chimaeras: The Status of the Chondrichthyan Fishes. Status Survey. IUCN/SSC Shark Specialist Group, IUCN, Gland. Available at:
  4. Shark Foundation (July, 2009)
  5. Randall, J.E., Allen, G.R. and Steene, R.C. (1997) Fishes of the Great Barrier Reef and Coral Sea. University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu, Hawaii.
  6. Lubke, R. and de Moor, I. (1998) Field Guide to the Eastern and Southern Cape Coasts. University of Cape Town Press, Cape Town.
  7. ReefQuest Centre for Shark Research (July, 2009)