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Soupfin (Tope) Shark

Scientific Name: Galeorhinus galeus

Distribution: Worldwidel in temperate waters. In the eastern North Pacific, soupfin range from British Columbia to southern Baja California, including the Gulf of California.

Habitat: Found from the surf zone to 1,545 ft (471 m). Soupfin sharks are known to be found over sand, rocks, and in kelp beds and are found throughout the water column.

Behavior: Soupfin sharks are also called school sharks because they form schools of similar sex and size. Little is known about the behavior of soupfins, however, based on historical fisheries data in California, they seem to exhibit sexual segregation by both latitude and depth. For example, in the northern California, the catch consisted of mostly mature males (> 95%) and in southern California, the catch consisted of mostly mature females (> 95%). However, in central California, the catch was roughly 50:50 males and females. Females were typically found in shallow water (less than 164 ft (50 m)) and males were typically found in deeper water (more than 164 ft (50 m)). Movement patterns are poorly defined but the sharks may move north in summer and south and offshore in winter. Several inshore areas are suspected locations where females give birth (pupping) and young grow up (nursery grounds), including Ventura Flats, east of Santa Barbara, and Vizcaino Bay in central Baja California. Although soupfin are mostly coastal, they are also highly mobile and capable of traveling long stretches of pelagic habitat. Based on tag-recapture study, soupfins routinely cross the Tasman Sea between Australia and New Zealand, and have also traveled between the UK and Iceland and the UK and the Canary Islands off northern Africa. In the eastern North Pacific, there are several instances of these sharks being tagged in southern California and being recaptured in Washington and British Columbia. Soupfin sharks eat fishes, cephalopods, and some large planktonic invertebrates.

Why it is important: Soupfin sharks were originally an important fishery for their oil and fins for soups. These sharks were heavily exploited throughout their range in the mid-20th century due to high demand for vitamin A during WWII. Soupfin sharks were found to have the highest vitamin oil levels of shark species in California and were highly sought after. At that time, fishers were earning over USD $10 per pound of liver, which is equivalent to more than USD $100 in today’s dollars. The fishery ended in the late 1940’s with the development of synthetic vitamin A, but not before severely depleting the population in the eastern North Pacific. The lack of a targeted fishery since then appears to have allowed the population to recover, but it is unknown whether it has recovered to pre-war levels. Now days, Soupfin sharks are mainly caught by recreational anglers for consumption.

Sources: FishBase, Ripley 1946, Ebert 2003, Walker et al. 2006 (IUCN), Love 2011

Quick Facts

Scientific Name: Galeorhinus galeus

Conservation Status (IUCN): Vulnerable Globally, but Least Concern in Eastern North Pacific

Lifespan: 40-60 years

Age at Maturity: Females 12 years; Males 8-9 years

Maximum Weight: Females 100 lbs (45.5 kg); Males 62 lbs (28.2 kg)

Speed: Unknown

Maximum Length: 6.5 ft (2 m)

Habitat: Temperate waters, including rocky reefs, kelp forests, and sheltered embayments

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