Tiger Catshark: Halaelurus natalensis

Family: Scyliorhinidae
Common name(s)

Tiger Catshark.


Slender body. Head broad. Snout pointed with upturned tip. Eyes/brows raised slightly above head. Mouth width greater than snout length. Labial furrows short. First dorsal origin over pelvic fin insertion. Second dorsal fin origin anterior to anal fin insertion. Pectoral fins broad. Anal fin fairly long. Lower caudal lobe weakly defined. Dorsal coloration uniformly cream/tan with ten dark saddles but no spots. Saddles have white/pale borders and reddish brown centres. Second saddle (behind eyes) is not joined at the top.


Maximum length at least 50cm. Size at birth unknown.


A temperate water species inhabiting rocky and sandy substrates on the continental shelf. From shallow bays to at least 114m. Usually shallow. Stays close to seafloor.


The tiger catshark is confined to southeast coast of Africa. Found from False Bay eastwards to Southern Mozambique.

Conservation Status


The Tiger Catshark (Halaelurus natalensis) is a discarded bycatch of demersal trawl, longline, beach seine, gillnet, and squid fisheries, and is not known to be utilized or traded. Trend analysis of research trawl data in South African commercially fished areas estimated a population reduction of 67% over three generation lengths (45 years), with the highest probability of 50–79% reduction over three generation lengths. This reduction is driven partly by a steep decline in catches during the early 1990s when fishing pressure in South Africa was substantially higher. Climate change likely contributed to a range shift away from the research trawl grounds that may account for some of the estimated population reduction but that also likely represents a significant loss of habitat for the Tiger Catshark. Overall, due to an estimated population reduction over most of its range and a substantial reduction in fishing effort in South Africa, combined with a suspected range shift due to climate change that could account for some of the estimated reduction but also likely represents a decline in area of occupancy, it is suspected that the Tiger Catshark has undergone a population reduction of 30–49% over the past three generation lengths (45 years), and it is assessed as VULNERABLE.

Citations and References
Pollom, R., Gledhill, K., Da Silva, C., Leslie, R., McCord, M.E. & Winker, H. 2020. Halaelurus natalensisThe IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2020: e.T44613A124435463. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2020-2.RLTS.T44613A124435463.en. Downloaded on 14 November 2020.


Oviparous. 6-11 egg cases per oviduct. Egg case size approximately 4cm x 1.5cm.


The tiger catshark feeds on small bony fishes, crustaceans, polychaete worms, cephalopods and small elasmobranchs.


Poorly known. Rarely seen in kelp forests in False Bay, unlike other catshark species. Possibly prefers open ground.

Reaction to divers

Rarely encountered by divers. Probably shy in un-baited situations.

Diving logistics

Tiger Catsharks are occasionally seen by local divers in False Bay and at a few dive sites further east in southern South Africa. However, I have attended numerous catshark feeds in False Bay that were packed with different species except this one.

One of the dive masters that conducts the feeds in False Bay told me that this shark showed up once to the feed and was approachable.

The images on this page are frame grabs from a baited remote camera that I deployed on the sand 300m from the kelp forest at Miller’s Point in False Bay.

Based on the fact that I only deployed the camera twice, and one deployment attracted this species, I suspect that tiger catsharks are relatively common in the area, but they are reluctant to enter the kelp forest where we conduct most of our dives/feeds.

We (Big Fish Expeditions) will be targeting tiger catsharks and their sister species lined catsharks, during our South African Endemic Shark Safaris, during which we will be diving at nurmerous locations along the Indian Ocean side of S.A. in an attempt to photograph as many endemic species of sharks and rays as possible.

Similar species

Lined Catshark Distinguished by a greater amount of thinner saddles and small dark spots.

Puffadder Shyshark Distinguished by a more rounded bulbous head and more intricate markings with many light and dark spots.

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