The Whiskery shark (Furgaleus macki) belongs to the Houndsharks, in the family Triakidae, and it is the only member of its genus. This common shark inhabits the Australian continental shelf from Western Australia to the Bass Strait, to a depth of 722 feet. It is demersal in habits and prefers rocky and vegetated habitats. It has a stalky, humpbacked body, and can be distinguished from all other members of its family by the presence of long nasal barbels. The Whiskery shark population is stable and increasing.
Family: Triakidae – Houndsharks
Common Name– Ground Sharks
Common Name– Houndsharks
Average Size and Length: They are born around 25 cm/9.8 inches. Mature sharks have been measured at 110 cm/3.6 feet, with a max of 150 cm/4.9 feet.
Average Weight: They have been weighed up to 29 pounds.
Current Rare Mythical Sightings: Australian ichthyologist Gilbert Percy Whitley described the Whiskery shark as a new genus and species, Fur macki, in a 1943 issue of the scientific journal Australian Zoologist. The name Fur was already in use for the genus Fur of true flies, in 1951, Whitley replaced it with Furgaleus. The type specimen is a 50 cm/1.6 feet long immature male caught off Mordialloc in Victoria, Australia. Based on morphology, Leonard Compagno grouped Furgaleus with Hemitriakis, Iago, and Gogolia as the tribe Iagini within the subfamily Galeorhininae of the family Triakidae. A 2006 phylogenetic study by J. Andrés López and colleagues, based on four protein-coding gene sequences, confirmed that Furgaleus and Hemitriakis are sister taxa (but didn’t include Gogolia).
Teeth and Jaw: The mouth is very short and arched with long furrows at the corners. Tooth rows number 24–32 in the upper and 36–42 in the lower jaw. Each upper tooth has an angled, knife-like main cusp with smaller cusplets on the trailing side, while each lower tooth has a single upright cusp.
Head: The snout is short, rounded or wedge-shaped when viewed from above. The Whiskery shark is the only member of the houndsharks with anterior nasal flaps forming slender barbels. There are obvious ridges below the dorsal-lateral eyes that are high on the head, with nictitating membranes. Just behind the ridges are tiny spiracles.
Tail: The caudal fin has a short lower lobe and a deep ventral notch near the tip of the upper lobe.
Demographic, Distribution, Habitat, Environment and Range: They can be found in Australia (21°S – 45°S) from Western Australia to the Bass Strait, to a depth of 722 feet. It is most common in the southwestern portion of its range between Kalbarri and Albany and is rare off Victoria and Tasmania. They prefer demersal, shallow temperate waters on the continental shelf, on or near the bottom on rock, seagrass, and even in kelp.
Diet: The Whiskery shark is a specialist when it comes to feeding on octopus. They will also eat squid, lobster and bony fish. They may also eat some other cephalopods, with spoon worms and seagrass found in the contents of its stomach.
Aesthetic Identification: The Whiskery shark is stalky and almost humpbacked. The dorsal side is grey, with variegated dark blotches or saddles that fade with age. The ventral side is lighter. Its two moderately large dorsal fins are roughly equal in size. The first dorsal fin is positioned closer to the pectoral fins than the pelvic fins, though its origin lies posterior to the pectoral fin rear tips. The second dorsal fin is positioned slightly ahead of the anal fin, which is much smaller than either dorsal fin.
Biology and Reproduction: They are ovoviviparous. There is no yolk-sac placenta. They have between 4-29 pups per litter, with an average of 19 pups per litter, every second year, typically from August to October, after a gestation period of 7–9 months. Males can mate every year, while females have a biennial reproductive cycle. Females store sperm until late January to early April of the following year, when the ova are ready to be ovulated into the uterus. It is possible that nursery areas may be in deeper water or other unfished habitats.
Pups double to triple in size in the first 15–17 months of life and continue to grow rapidly until they are 3–4 years old. Sexual maturity is reached at a length of 3.6–4.3 feet for both sexes, corresponding to around five years of age for males and seven years of age for females. The maximum lifespan is estimated to be 15 years.
A known parasite of this species is the tapeworm Calliobothrium pritchardae.
Behavioral Traits, Sensing and Intelligence: They are active predators.
Speed: The Whiskery shark is an active swimmer and predator/hunter.
Whiskery Shark Future and Conservation: They are currently of least concern. They are quite common. Some of the population has been depleted by target gillnet fisheries to greater than 30% of the original measured population in the 1960-70’s. In the early 1980’s catches peaked at 400–600 tons taken annually. Fisheries are now managing their numbers, and the population is in a stable position from the mid 1980’s to today. It’s meat, coined flake, was used heavily. Other sharks that are used as flake include the Gummy shark and the Dusky shark. Although populations are stable, in 2004 and 2005 it made up 12% or 153 tons of the Western Australian Joint Authority Southern Demersal Gillnet and Demersal Longline Fishery by weight.
Whiskery Shark Recorded Attacks on Humans: Not a threat to humans.