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The Snaggletooth Shark

(Hemipristis Elongatus)

The first time I saw this strange looking shark was about 5 years ago when we caught one in a night-time seine net that we pulled in front of Durban Ski Boat club to collect fish for Ushaka. The next one that I saw was last year when I caught one at Kosi of +- 15kg at about three in the morning fishing with straight nylon and a chokka/mackerel bait for reef fish. It wasn’t particularly strong during the fight, and it didn’t really even take line. When I got it onto the ledge however, it was next to impossible to hold onto and in hound shark fashion twisted and writhed around. The main difference being that it had some serious dentures so you can’t try and control it by grabbing it by the jaw like we do with the hounds!! Soon after I caught this one, we were up at Pomeni in Mozambique for a few days and Wes got one on a slide bait the one night. Within the space of a few months, there were several more caught from the Transkei to Scottburgh point and Dave’s rock. This prompted me to try find out a bit more about this elusive species. The Snaggletooth shark (Hemipristis elongates) is a type of weasel shark. It occurs in the Indo-West pacific oceans including the red sea, from southeast Africa to the Philippines, North to China and south to Australia. It ranges from the surf zone down to depths of 130m and is definitely a predominantly nocturnal species doing most of its hunting under the cover of darkness. It is considered rare in South Africa, but in other parts of the world it is a relatively common species.

Snaggletooths are slender sharks ranging in colour from matt grey to bronze. They have a broadly rounded, long snout with teeth protruding from their mouths. The teeth on the bottom and top jaws are totally different. The top jaw has teeth that act as knives for cutting, while the bottom teeth are designed to hold the prey. The teeth are so different in fact that when the first jaws were found they were thought to be from two different species of shark. One of the most distinguishing features of a snaggletooth is the shape of its fins. All its fins are markedly curved back with its pectorals being almost sickle shaped. Snaggletooths are Viviparous which means they give birth to live young, with the average number of pups being 6-8. Their diet is very divers ranging from bony fish and cephalopods to smaller sharks and rays. The maximum recorded length for this species is 2.4m total length. In other parts of the world Snaggletooths are regularly caught by inshore gillnets, bottom trawls and long-line fisheries. The species is listed by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of nature) as being threatened. Their fins are also used in the shark fin industry. Snaggletooths have a much larger, extinct relative, Hemipristis serra, whose fossilized teeth are valued by collectors and as ornaments. In spite of their impressive teeth and inshore habits, there are no recorded attacks by this spe cies on hu ma ns.