The spotted gully shark (Triakis megalopterus), also referred to as the sharptooth houndshark, is a shark we are always excited to find in the kelp forests around Cape Town. We mostly encounter these houndsharks in shallow inshore areas particularly around Waters Edge, Shark Alley and Millers Point and around Buffels Bay in Cape Point Nature Reserve, but they have been found at depths of 50m. They like sandy areas near rocky reefs and gullies and swim close to the bottom. Although we often see spotted gully sharks during the day and they seem quite active, they prefer being nocturnal. Seeing these sharks when freediving or snorkeling in Cape Town is a real treat. They can grow up to 2m long and weigh 50kg which makes them feel like a ‘real’ shark while still being small enough to not induce too much panic in people who have watched Jaws too many times.
Spotted gully sharks have chunky bodies and a short, flat nose with widely spaced nostrils. They are a greyish colour and covered in small black spots which darken with age. It has large fins for its size, especially the dorsal fins with the 1st and 2nd being almost the same size. These large fins do a lot to differentiate it from other smaller sharks and together with its catlike eyes, give it a more intimidating appearance than other small sharks. The long fins make it very stable and agile so it can make accurate and rapid turns even in strong surf. Spotted gully sharks have tightly packed teeth with three points on each tooth. These teeth allow it to grip and tear slippery prey like octopus, while still allowing it to crush prey like crabs and lobster.
Crustaceans, bony fishes, and cephalopods are spotted gully sharks’ preferred prey. While they are juveniles, they are particularly fond of eating crabs. They live up to 21 years, but only reach sexual maturity at around 14 years which is when they begin to reproduce. During summer they are known to form big groups in shallow water, most likely to mate. They are viviparous with the eggs remaining inside the mother where the pups hatch and grow for 2 to 3 years before being born. Females give birth to 6 to 12 pups measuring around 30cm.
Due to their slow growth rate Spotted gully sharks are very vulnerable to overfishing. They are edible, but are fortunately rarely eaten. Commercial fishing for these sharks is prohibited in South Africa, but they are hooked by recreational anglers and are also caught on commercial bottom longlines as bycatch. They are totally harmless to humans so hopefully you will see these wonderful little sharks in the kelp forests around Cape Town.