A moderately sized shark with a short, blunt snout, the kitefin shark (Dalatias licha) has two small, spineless dorsal fins, an asymmetrical caudal fin, with a well-developed notch near the tip, and no anal fin. The body is uniformly dark brown, greyish black or violet brown, often with poorly defined black spots on the upper surface, while the rounded fins have white or translucent edges, and the tail is tipped with black (2) (3) (4) (5). The ‘lips’ are thick and may be pale in colour, and the jaws are heavy, compact, and very powerful (2) (3) (5). The teeth of the kitefin shark differ greatly between the upper and lower jaws, being small, narrow and pointed in the upper jaw, and large, bladelike and serrated in the lower jaw (2) (3) (6). This species can sometimes be confused with the Portuguese shark, Centroscymnus coelolepis, but can be distinguished by the lack of spines on the dorsal fins (2).
- Also known as
- black shark, Bonnaterre’s deepwater shark, darkie charlie, seal shark.
- Male length: 77 - 121 cm (2) (3)
- Female length: 117 - 159 cm (2) (3)
Kitefin shark biology
The kitefin shark is a powerful deep-sea predator, feeding on a wide variety of bony fishes, skates, other sharks, cephalopods, crustaceans and worms (2) (3) (4) (6). Fish are the most commonly taken prey (2) (3), although the diet may vary seasonally, as well as with age (3).
The kitefin shark is believed to be mainly solitary (2) (3), and reproduction is ovoviviparous, meaning the eggs develop and hatch inside the body, the female then giving birth to live young (2) (3) (4). Litter size varies from 10 to 16 pups, with each pup measuring around 30 centimetres long at birth (2) (3) (6). Little is known about the growth, lifespan, or age at maturity of the kitefin shark (6) (7).
Kitefin shark range
The kitefin shark has a widespread but relatively patchy distribution (5) (6), being found in parts of the western and eastern Atlantic Ocean, the western Mediterranean, the western Indian Ocean, and the western and central Pacific Ocean (1) (2) (3) (4).
Kitefin shark habitat
This deepwater species typically lives near, but not on, the sea bed. Most commonly found on continental and insular shelves and slopes in warm-temperate and tropical waters, the kitefin shark is most common below 200 metres, and has been recorded at depths of up to 1,800 metres (2) (3) (4) (6).
Kitefin shark status
The kitefin shark is classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List (1).
Kitefin shark threats
Although primarily caught as bycatch (2), and historically only the target of directed, deepwater line fisheries, commercial exploitation of kitefin sharks does occur in some areas, and is likely to increase in future as traditional fisheries decline and as deepwater fishing gear continues to develop (1) (6) (7). The species is sought mainly for its large, oily liver, which is rich in the compound squalene, and is also caught for food, leather, and to produce fishmeal (2) (3) (4) (6). However, the kitefin shark appears to have limited commercial potential, with rapid reduction in populations reported when large catches are taken (1) (6) (7) (8). The species is also likely to have low productivity, meaning that populations take a long time to recover after depletion (1) (2) (6).
Kitefin shark conservation
There are no specific conservation measures currently in place for the kitefin shark (1).
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- Anal fin
- In fish, an unpaired fin on the under surface of a fish, behind the anus.
- In the fishing industry, the part of the catch made up of non-target species.
- Caudal fin
- The tail fin of a fish.
- From the Greek for ‘head-foot’, a class of molluscs that occur only in marine habitats. All species have grasping tentacles, and either an internal or external shell. Includes nautiloids, cuttlefish, squids, octopuses, and extinct ammonites and belemnites.
- Continental shelf
- A region of relatively shallow water, not usually deeper than 200 metres, surrounding each of the continents.
- Diverse group of arthropods (a phylum of animals with jointed limbs and a hard chitinous exoskeleton) characterised by the possession of two pairs of antennae, one pair of mandibles (parts of the mouthparts used for handling and processing food) and two pairs of maxillae (appendages used in eating, which are located behind the mandibles). Includes crabs, lobsters, shrimps, slaters, woodlice and barnacles.
- Dorsal fin
- The unpaired fin found on the back of the body of fish, or the raised structure on the back of most cetaceans.
- Insular shelf
- A region of relatively shallow water surrounding an island.
IUCN Red List (April, 2011)
Kitefin Shark Biological Profile, Ichthyology Department, Florida Museum of Natural History (March, 2009)
Compagno, L.J.V. (1984) Sharks of the World. An Annotated and Illustrated Catalogue of Shark Species Known to Date. Vol. 4: Part 1: Hexanchiformes to Lamniformes. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome. Available at:
Carpenter, K.E. (2002) The Living Marine Resources of the Western Central Atlantic. Volume 1: Introduction, Molluscs, Crustaceans, Hagfishes, Sharks, Batoid Fishes, and Chimaeras. Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, Rome. Available at:
Shark Foundation (March, 2009)
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.
Camhi, M., Fowler, S., Musick, J.A., Bräutigam, A. and Fordham, S.V. (1998) Sharks and their Relatives - Ecology and Conservation. IUCN/SSC Shark Specialist Group, IUCN, Gland.
Machado, P.B., Pinho, M.R. and Duarte, P.N. (2004) Trends in the fishery and catch patterns of kitefin shark, Dalatias licha (Bonaterre, 1788), from off Azores, through a GIS spatial analysis. Arquipélago - Life and Marine Sciences, 21: 43 - 55.