Smallspotted Catshark: Scyliorhinus canicula

Family: Scyliorhinidae
Common name(s)

Smallspotted Catshark, Lesser-spotted Catshark, Small/Lesser-spotted Dogfish.


A slender bodied catshark. Snout short and rounded. Inner labial furrows extend forward almost to mouth. First dorsal origin approximately midway between with pelvic fin insertion and free rear tip. Second dorsal fin origin level with anal fin insertion. First dorsal larger than second dorsal. Anal fin long and low. Dorsal coloration light grey or beige, usually with dusky saddles and many tightly-spaced, very small, dark spots. Saddles may be indistinct. Fin spots slightly larger and less concentrated that spots on body.


Maximum size in the North Sea 100cm. Max size in the Mediterranean Sea approx. 60cm.


Rocky, sandy or muddy substrates from outer continental shelf to close inshore including estuaries.Usually close inshore to 150m in the north. Deeper to 400m max. in the south.


Widespread and abundant in the eastern North Atlantic and Mediterranean. Present from Norway to Senegal in West Africa.

Conservation Status


The lesser-spotted catshark is one of the most abundant elasmobranchs in the Northeast Atlantic and Mediterranean Sea. Although localized depletions appear to have occurred in some areas (e.g., in the Wadden Sea and off Malta), scientific surveys throughout the majority of its range suggest that populations are stable or even increasing in some areas. Reproduction is oviparous and the species appears to be relatively productive biologically, thus may be able to withstand higher levels of exploitation. Though commercial landings are made and large individuals are retained for human consumption, the species is often discarded and studies show that post-discard survival rates are high. The species is assessed as Least Concern because overall population trends appear to be stable and there is no evidence to indicate that the global population has declined significantly. Catches and population trends should be monitored.

Citations and References
Ellis, J., Mancusi, C., Serena, F., Haka, F., Guallart, J., Ungaro, N., Coelho, R., Schembri, T. & MacKenzie, K. 2009. Scyliorhinus caniculaThe IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2009: e.T161399A5415204. Downloaded on 23 November 2020.


Oviparous. Deposits egg capsules (in pairs) year round, but mostly between November and July. Eggs are often attached to kelp stalks when in shallow enough water. In deeper habitats, egg-cases are deposited on sessile invertebrates, including sponges, hydroids, soft corals and bryozoans.


Hunts for bottom dwelling invertebrates (crustaceans, gastropds, cephalopods, and worms) and small bony fishes.


Adults often form large, single sex aggregations.

Reaction to divers

Easily approached when found resting on the sea floor. Will bolt if approached to quickly or aggressively.

Diving logistics

Quite common around the UK, especially on the south and west coasts. I have seen this species at virtually every dive site in Wales and Cornwall so it should not be hard to track down when diving in shallow kelp forests.

As one of many examples, the Isle of Skomer is a beautiful dive spot off of the western tip of Wales. Well worth a summer trip for catsharks, diving puffins, and generally excellent diving.

Another good spot is the tiny town of Porthkerris on the south coast of Cornwall. Best known for basking sharks in early summer, it also has a nice kelpy shore dive where you are almost certain to bump into a smallspotted catshark or two.

Similar species

Nursehound Distinguished by larger size, and larger, more widely spaced dark spots.

Duhamel’s Catshark Distinguished by diffused or indefinite brown spots and blotches, varying greatly in colour, especially toward the back, where the spots are darker, somewhat fused, and intermixed with white spots. Adriatic and Mediterranean Seas, along the continental shelves of Croatia, Greece, Tunisia and Algeria.

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