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  • Linda Weiss

April Elasmobranch of the Month: Kitefin Shark

Updated: May 5, 2022

Author: Linda Weiss

Kitefin Shark

(Dalatias licha)

Key Features/Appearance

The kitefin shark is a relatively small species averaging 1-1.4m (3.3-4.6 ft) in length with a maximum known length of 1.59m (5.2 ft.). It’s solid in color which may vary from dark brown, to cinnamon, to a grayish black. It sometimes has black spots on its top side. This shark’s snout is short, blunt and conically shaped. Its fins are rounded and it does not have an anal fin. It also does not have a precaudal pit before its single-lobed appearing caudal (tail) fin. The upper lobe of the caudal fin is large and with the large subterminal notch, the lower lobe is not distinguishable at first glance. The first dorsal fin starts behind the pectoral fin tips and is slightly smaller than the second dorsal. Gill slits are short. The upper jaw holds 19 rows of small, narrow, smooth teeth that are slightly curved outward. The lower jaw also contains 19 rows of teeth. However, these teeth are larger, broad and triangular with serrated cusps. And they overlap at the base.

COOL FACT: This species is the world's largest known glow in the dark shark!

Habitat and Distribution

The Kitefin shark is a deep-water species, living on continental and insular shelves at depths ranging from 31-1,800 m (102 – 5,900 ft.). The distribution of the kitefin shark ranges from Georges Bank off Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and Cape Sable Island, Nova Scotia to the east coast of Florida, the northern Gulf of Mexico, and in the western Atlantic Ocean off the islands of the Bahamas. Additionally, the kitefin shark can be found in the eastern Atlantic Ocean, from the North Sea to Cameroon and in the central and western Pacific Ocean and southwestern Indian Ocean.


The kitefin shark has a varied diet. While fish make up the bigger portion of this variety, they also eat squid, octopi, lobster, shrimp, worms, and other crustaceans. It is speculated they may also feed by taking bites out of larger prey such as skates, rays, and fish. Similar to the cookie cutter shark that removes bite-sized pieces of meat from the flesh of larger animals.


Kitefin sharks use the ovoviviparous method for reproduction. Embryos develop in eggs, inside the female, nourished by yolk sacs. Once developed, the eggs hatch inside the female, then are birthed live. Litter sizes range from 3-16 pups and average 6-8. Newly born pups measure approximately 30-40 cm (12 – 16 inches)

via Florida Museum


The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species currently lists the kitefin shark Vulnerable with a decreasing population trend.


The kitefin shark is targeted by the commercial fishing industry. This shark is sought largely for its liver oil. The remaining carcass is used to make fishmeal and leather products. Human consumption of the meat has a limited geography that includes Japan and the islands of Azores and Madeira. Kitefins sharks are also killed as bycatch in commercial fishing gear.


British Sea Fishing

Florida Museum of Natural History


World of Sharks

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species

Finucci, B., Walls, R.H.L., Guallart, J. & Kyne, P.M. 2018. Dalatias licha. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2018: e.T6229A3111662. Accessed on 15 April 2022.

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