Coral catshark (Atelomycterus marmoratus)

French: Chien Corail
Spanish: Pintarrojia
GenusAtelomycterus (1)
SizeLength: up to 70 cm (2)

Classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List (1).

The coral catshark is a small, slender shark with a narrow head and the elongated, cat-like eyes typical of the catshark family (2) (3) (4). The body is distinctively and attractively marked, with a mottled pattern of dark marks and white spots on a brown background. The underside is white (2) (4). The coral catshark possesses two spineless dorsal fins, the first of which is in line with the middle of the pelvic fins, about midway along the body, and also a smaller anal fin. The tail (caudal) fin lacks a strong lower lobe (2) (3) (4) (5).

The coral catshark has a widespread distribution in the tropical Indian and western Pacific Oceans, occurring from Pakistan and India to Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, southern China and Japan (1) (2) (4). Previous records from Australian waters are now thought to be of separate species (1).

An inshore species, the coral catshark inhabits coral reefs, where it is thought to live in crevices and holes in the reef (1) (2) (4).

Although a widespread and common species, surprisingly little is known about the biology of the coral catshark, with virtually no information available on its diet, growth or reproduction (1) (2) (4). However, like other catsharks it is likely to feed on invertebrates and perhaps small fish, and it is harmless to humans (3) (4). The coral catshark is thought to reach sexual maturity at around 50 centimetres in length, and lays eggs rather than giving birth to live young (2) (4) (5). The egg case of this species is rectangular and elongated, with short tendrils at one end, and is dark brown in colour, with a smooth surface (6).

The coral catshark is still widespread and relatively abundant, and generally forms only a minor part of the catch of inshore fisheries (1) (2). However, increasing fishing pressure is likely to represent a significant threat, and the coral catshark may face further pressure from habitat destruction, as a result of dynamite fishing, coral mining and pollution. A lack of population and fisheries data for this species makes accurately assessing its status somewhat difficult (1). It appears to be relatively common in the live aquaria trade, but the potential impacts on the wild population are unknown.

Recreational landings, but not fisheries catch, are prohibited for the coral catshark in Malaysian waters (7), but there are no other known conservation measures currently in place for the species. The IUCN recommends that habitat protection and education measures should be considered for this and other coral-dwelling species in the region. The collection of more detailed fisheries data will also be vital if appropriate conservation action is to be taken for this attractive small shark (1).

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  1. IUCN Red List (December, 2009)