A shyshark with a condensed range

The Brown shyshark or Plain Happy (Haploblepharus fuscus) is a species of catshark belonging to the family Scyliorhinidae. It is endemic to the shallow, coastal waters of South Africa from west of Cape Agulhas to KwaZulu-Natal. This benthic species is usually found over sandy or rocky bottoms. This shark is stout in shape, with a flattened head and rounded snout. They are plain brown in color, sometimes with faint saddle marks and or white or black spots. Like other shysharks, when threatened, the Brown shyshark or Plain Happy curls into a circle with its tail over its eyes.


Family: Scyliorhinidae – Catsharks

Genus: Haploblepharus 

Species: fuscus


Phylum– Chordata

Class– Chondrichthyles


Common NameGround Sharks

Family– Scyliorhinidae

Common NameCatsharks




Average Size and Length: Adolescent males measure between 50-54 cm/1.6-1.7 feet. Adult males measure between 55-69 cm/1.8-2.2 feet. Adult females measure between 60-63 cm/1.9-2 feet. The longest recorded is 69 cm/2.2 feet. One record claim 73 cm/2.4 feet, but this is not confirmed.

Current Rare Mythical Sightings: The Brown shyshark was described by South African ichthyologist James Leonard Brierley Smith in a 1950 article for The Annals and Magazine of Natural History. He chose the specific epithet fuscus, which is Latin for “brown”. The type specimen is a 57 cm/1.9-foot-long adult male caught off East London, South Africa.

Teeth and Jaw: There are furrows at the corners of the mouth on both jaws. The teeth have a central cusp and a pair of smaller cusplets on the sides.

Head: The head is somewhat flattened, stalky and broad. The snout is blunt and dorsally flattened. The eyes are large and oval-shaped, with a nictitating membrane and a strong ridge underneath. The nostrils are large. There are greatly expanded anterior nasal flaps that reach the mouth. These nasal flaps cover a pair of deep grooves that connect the nasal excurrent openings and the mouth.

Denticles: The skin is thick and covered by well-calcified leaf-like dermal denticles.

Tail: The caudal fin is short and broad, with a notch near the tip of the upper lobe and an indistinct lower lobe.

Demographic, Distribution, Habitat, Environment and Range: The Brown shyshark or Plain Happy can be found in the south Atlantic and the western Indian Ocean in South Africa. Its range is less than 621 miles of coast from west of Cape Agulhas to KwaZulu-Natal. They are found inshore on the continental shelf, typically in shallow, sandy, or rocky bottoms between 0-115 feet. It has been reported from as deep as 436 feet. They are considered benthic.

The range of the Brown shyshark overlaps with the Puffadder shyshark in the southeastern Cape region. There, the Brown shyshark tends to favor shallow inshore habitats, while the Puffadder shyshark inhabits deeper offshore waters.

One tag-recapture study found that recaptured sharks had moved no more than 5.0 miles from their original tagging location. (Kohler, N.E. & P.A. Turner (2001). “Shark tagging: a review of conventional methods and studies“. Environmental Biology of Fishes. 60: 191–223).

Diet: They eat lobster and bony fish.

Aesthetic Identification: The Brown shyshark or Plain Happy is brown in color dorsally, sometimes with darker, obscure saddles or small white or black spots. It is white ventrally. In larger specimens, the body is stalky. The gill slits are on the upper sides of the body. The first dorsal fin originates well behind the pelvic fin origins, and the second originates behind the anal fin origin. The pectoral fins are moderately large, and the dorsal, pelvic, and anal fins are of similar sizes.

Biology and Reproduction: They are oviparous. They lay pairs of egg cases. Each egg case is called a mermaid purse. In captivity, the whelks Burnupena papyracea and B. lagenaria have been documented piercing the egg cases and extracting the yolk.

A 2006 phylogenetic analysis based on three mitochondrial DNA genes found that the Brown shyshark and the Dark shyshark (H. pictus) are sister species. They are the more derived members of the genus relative to the basal Puffadder shyshark (H. edwardsii).

Behavioral Traits, Sensing and Intelligence: When captured or threatened the Brown shyshark or Plain Happy curls up in a ball, with its tail over its eyes when captured.

Speed: More than likely slow and sluggish; they have been observed laying on the bottom.

Brown Shyshark or Plain Happy Future and Conservation: They are currently vulnerable due to their extremely limited range. They are considered a nuisance by anglers, and are sometimes killed by them. It is also at risk of habitat degradation. They may also be caught as bycatch.

Brown Shyshark or Plain Happy Recorded Attacks on Humans: Not a threat to humans.