Kitefin Shark

Kitefin Shark

  • Scientific name: Dalatias licha
  • Also know as: Seal Shark, Black Shark
  • Size: Up to 5ft in length
  • UK minimum size: N/a
  • UK shore caught record: N/a
  • IUCN status: NT (Neat Threatened), EN (Endangered) in European waters.
  • Distribution: Found throughout deep water areas worldwide.
  • Feeds on: Predator armed with extremely powerful jaws and very sharp teeth. Will eat all manner of fish and squid it comes across and also attack prey much larger than itself.
  • Description: Elongated body with thin fins. The first dorsal fin and pectoral fins are rounded. Eyes are large and appear green and five gill slits are present on each side of the body. Shout is short and mouth is full of interlocking teeth, with the upper jaw consisting of smaller pointed teeth and the lower jaw made up of much larger triangular teeth. Jaws are immensely powerful. Usually dark brown to black in colour but can also be dark grey.

The kitefin shark is classed as a deep water species, although it is generally found in waters down to around 1000 metres, and has even been reported as being observed in waters of just thirty or forty metres. This species is found in a number of locations across the world. In Europe, it is found in the North Sea and along the Atlantic coasts of France and Spain, as well as along the coast of Portugal.


Kitefin Shark Distribution
Worldwide distribution of the kitefin shark.

They are found along the western coast of Africa along to the coast of Nigeria, with a separate population off the coast of south east Africa. Kitefin shark are also present off the coasts of Australia, New Zealand and Japan, with smaller populations found around the USA and Canada and small populations also present in South American waters. Around the UK they are most likely to be found in the Rockall Trough to the west of Ireland and the Faroe-Shetland Channel to the north of Scotland.

Behaviour and Feeding

Kitefin shark jaws
Jaws of a kitefin shark. Not the difference between the teeth in the upper and lower jaws.

Kitefin shark are aggressive predators which feed by scouring the seabed for all manner of fish species which they will attack and kill using their powerful jaws. Smaller fish such as codling and hake in shallower water and roundnose grenadiers, orange roughy and fangtooth in deeper waters. However, the kitefin shark is thought to behave in a similar manner to the cookie-cutter shark as, despite its small size, it will attack prey much larger than itself such as skates, cod and other shark species. Kitefin shark will also feed on squid and octopus and will eat any crustaceans they come across. It is also believed that dead and rotting fish on the seabed will also be scavenged on if they are found. Kitefin shark are solitary fish which feed and hunt alone. While the kitefin shark will attack creatures much larger than themselves there have been no documented attacks on humans due to the depths at which this species lives.


The reproductive patterns of the kitefin shark are not fully understood. It is thought that one of the few times kitefin shark will gather with members of their other species is to spawn. Kitefin shark are viviparous meaning that the young develop inside the body of the female and therefore appear to be born live. Young kitefin shark are around 30cm long when they hatch from the female.

Commercial Value and Conservation Status

Kitefin shark have only limited value as a food fish. They are eaten in Asian countries such as Japan, and have long been considered a delicacy in islands such as Madeira and the Azores. The liver of kitefin shark is also valuable as it is extremely rich in oil and the carcasses can be processed into fishmeal once the liver has been removed.

Drying Kitefin Shark
In Madeira kitefin sharks are filleted and salted and then preserved by being hung out to dry in the sunshine. Locally this species is known as the Câmara de Lobos codfish due to the region of Maderia which this method of preservation originated.

Kitefin shark have can be caught by deep water gill nets and long-lines which specifically target this species, while they are also caught as bycatch by deep-sea trawlers which are likely to dispose of any kitefin sharks as unwanted bycatch. Numbers of kitefin shark have been badly reduced by commercial over-exploitation, a situation made worse by commercial vessels pushing into deeper and deeper water to catch the species which are present there. Overall the International Union for the Conservation of Nature classes kitefin shark as Near Threatened. In European waters this species is classed as Endangered with a declining population trend.