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Horn Shark ( Heterodontus francisci)
Compiled by Regional Ambassador Amie Williams
Horn sharks come from the family Heterodontidae meaning bullhead sharks. This family is most notably characterized by their short, blunt snout. This species of bullhead shark’s first and second fins both have spines but no nictitating membrane. Unfortunately, the horn shark are not very elegant swimmers… but luckily, their pectoral fins are incredibly large, broad and muscular which helps them scramble to scramble over the seafloor! Horn sharks can range in coloration from a grey-brown where the ventral has a yellowish tinge. Horn sharks also have small dark spots across it’s entire body which can be absent in older individuals and have been known to reach p to 1.2 m in length (average 1 m).
Horn sharks are oviparous, meaning females lay egg cases. They usually lay 2 at a time every 11-14 days between February and April, depositing up the 24 eggs in a single season. The female usually lays the eggs in shallow water and it takes 6-10 months for them to hatch.
The horn shark is restricted to the west coast of the U.S.A (endemic), from central California- Gulf of California at depths of around 2-11m in summer and 30 m during winter months. While the species prefer shallower waters, they can be found the continental shelf at depth up to 152 m. Depth range and habitat segregation occurs by size and maturity which in return reduced competition. Therefore, juvenile horn sharks can be found at deeper depths (40-150 m) in more sandy bottoms before migrating to rocky, shallower depths once sexually maturing.
Benthic invertebrates appear to be the main food source for the horn shark, including crustaceans, echinoderms (such as sea urchins and sea stars) as well as small fish and molluscs. Juveniles tend to eat prey items with softer bodies. Other prey items include damselfish the blacksmith, cephalopods and peanut worms.
Listed as Data Deficient on the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species, therefore there is currently not enough information on the species for an accurate assessment. IUCN have recognised the species could be listed as “Least Concern” in the U.S. as the horn shark is rarely found in fisheries catch as has no known threats.
While in Mexico the horn sharks are caught as bycatch bottom fisheries (shrimp) and often sold as fishmeal, they hold no commercial value in California. The species are well known for being displayed in aquariums in the U.S.A..