Smalltooth Sandtiger: Odontaspis ferox

Family: Odontaspididae
Common name(s)

Smalltooth Sandtiger Shark, Sand Tiger Shark, Ragged-tooth Shark.


A large, heavy-bodied shark. Snout conical with a rounded tip. Teeth in the lower jaw are curved and protrude even when mouth is closed. Angle of first dorsal fin posterior edge, mirrors leading edge. First dorsal fin origin level with free rear tip of pectoral fin. Second dorsal fin large but smaller than first dorsal. Second dorsal fin origin over pelvic fin free rear tip. Well defined pre-caudal notch. Upper caudal lobe has a relatively weak subterminal notch.
Dorsal coloration varies from light grey to pinkish-grey, to reddish brown. Ventral surface off-white. Juveniles often have scattered dark spots or small blotches.


Maximum size 450cm. Size at birth 100-105cm.


Warm-temperate/sub-tropical continental shelves, upper slopes, and oceanic sea mounts. Usually close to the substrate but may be epi-pelagic as it is sometimes caught over very deep water i.e. 2000-4000m. Depth range 10-880m.


Although rarely encountered, disjunct populations occur in most temperate environments including Algeria; Australia (New South Wales, Victoria, Western Australia); Brazil (Fernando de Noronha, Rio Grande do Norte, São Paulo); British Indian Ocean Territory; British Indian Ocean Territory; British Indian Ocean Territory (Chagos Archipelago); Cabo Verde; Chile; Cocos (Keeling) Islands; Colombia; Colombia; Colombia (Malpelo I.); Costa Rica; Costa Rica; Costa Rica (Cocos I.); Croatia; Cyprus; Ecuador; Ecuador; Ecuador (Galápagos); France; Greece; Indonesia; Indonesia; Indonesia (Jawa); Israel; Italy; Italy; Italy (Italy (mainland)); Japan (Honshu); Lebanon; Madagascar; Maldives; Malta; Mexico; Morocco; New Caledonia; New Zealand (Kermadec Is., North Is.); Portugal; Portugal; Portugal (Madeira, Azores); South Africa (KwaZulu-Natal); Spain (Spain (mainland), Canary Is., Baleares); Sri Lanka; Syrian Arab Republic; Taiwan, Province of China; Tanzania, United Republic of; Tunisia; Turkey; United States (Alabama, California, Florida, Georgia, Hawaiian Is., North Carolina, South Carolina); and the Western Sahara.

Conservation Status


Apart from about five shallow water dive locations where it has been seen repeatedly, the Smalltooth Sand Tiger is known from fewer than 200 records suggesting that it is rarely encountered (or reported), or naturally has low population numbers. However, new records continue to accumulate, including several recent captures and a number of photographs and video recordings taken in deepwater at oceanic islands and on submarine seamounts and ridges. With this new distributional information, it is becoming evident that the Smalltooth Sand Tiger is probably continuously distributed across the oceans and around the peripheries of the continents.
Although larger and bulkier, this species is morphologically very similar to the Sand Tiger (Carcharias taurus) and is presumed to have a similarly very low reproductive capacity (producing only two pups every two years). This likely very low fecundity makes it potentially susceptible to local extinction, even at seemingly small capture rates. Although probably not specifically targeted, there are commercial landings of the Smalltooth Sand Tiger from bottom trawls, set-nets and line gear in many parts of the world including the Mediterranean Sea, Japan, Indonesia and (occasionally) Australia. Demersal trawl fisheries off Australia, New Zealand, and southern Africa operate in areas of known and likely occurrence. Off the southeastern coast of Australia, fishery-independent surveys indicated a decline of over 50% in catches of the Smalltooth Sand Tiger after 20 years of trawling on the upper slope (200–650 m) off New South Wales. Similar declines are likely to have occurred in other parts of its range impacted by fisheries, such as the in the Mediterranean Sea where the decline of the Smalltooth Sand Tiger is suspected to match or even exceed that in Australia; regionally, the species is currently assessed as Critically Endangered in the Mediterranean. Although it is more often found in depths greater than 200 m (max. depth recorded is 880 m), occurrences of small aggregations of the Smalltooth Sand Tiger in shallow water at a number of locations (eastern tropical Atlantic, eastern and southwestern Pacific Ocean) suggest that the species may be more vulnerable to fishing pressure than previously assumed, and may also be susceptible to coastal habitat impacts similar to those that affected the Sand Tiger (C. taurus).
Globally, there are many parts of its distribution where there seems to be little or no fishery activity, and the species is protected in the waters of some countries e.g. Croatia, Malta, Spain (Mediterranean coast), Colombia (Malpelo Island Sanctuary), Australia (New South Wales), and New Zealand. However, a precautionary assessment of Vulnerable is considered appropriate because of documented and suspected local declines, the species’ apparent rarity, its presumed very low fecundity and high vulnerability to exploitation, and its continued bycatch in fisheries in a number of countries.

Graham, K.J., Pollard, D.A., Gordon, I., Williams, S., Flaherty, A.A., Fergusson, I. & Dicken, M. 2016. Odontaspis ferox (errata version published in 2016). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T41876A103433002. Downloaded on 19 December 2020.


Presumably aplacental viviperous and oophagous like other lamnids, but no gravid females have been examined. In the related santiger shark, embryos indulge in ’embryonic cannibalism’.


Small bony fishes, squid, and shrimp.


The smalltooth sand tiger is known to form small groups in relatively shallow water. Behavior poorly known.

Reaction to divers

Easily approached with slow non-threatening movements. Chumming is not necessary to encounter this species where it naturally occurs.

Diving logistics

There are three locations where smalltooth sandtigers may be seasonally encountered but in each spot, sightings are hit and miss.

Probably the most reliable location is at a seamount named Bajo Del Monstruo, next to Malpelo Island in the eastern tropical Pacific. The best months for encounters are January to March. For reasons known only to the sharks, smalltooth sandtigers congregate on one small, 60-70m deep reef slope. They are rarely encountered elsewhere around the island, but random encounters do occur; sometimes in much shallower water.

Off the northwest coast of Africa, smalltooth sandtigers sometimes enter very shallow water (10m deep) at reefs around El Hierro Island in the Canary Islands. Sightings generally occur in the summer.

Apparently, smalltooth sandtigers also occur at a dive site named Shark Point. Divers interested in this dive should contact dive shops in Beirut for further information.

Similar species

Sandtiger Shark Distinguished by more slender body, and second dorsal which is the same size as the first.

Bigeye Sandtiger Distinguished by larger eyes. An extremely rare species, confined to deep water greater than 600m.

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