Could this little shark have vanished for good?

The Whitespotted Izak or African Spotted catshark (Holohalaelurus punctatus) is a catshark belonging to the family Scyliorhinidae. It is found in the western Indian Ocean off the coasts of Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa, and southern Mozambique. The Whitespotted Izak has a unique pattern of tiny scattered black dots on a yellow-brown background. The Whitespotted Izak was once abundant, but hasn’t been caught by researchers in over 15 years, and could have vanished (but this is not conclusive yet). This shark has had to endure heavy fishing pressures throughout its range.


Family: Scyliorhinidae. – Catsharks

Genus: Holohalaelurus 

Species: punctatus


Phylum– Chordata

Class– Chondrichthyles


Common NameGround Sharks

Family– Scyliorhinidae

Common NameCatsharks




Average Size and Length: Mature males have been measured between 24-33 cm/9.4 inches-1 foot. Mature females have been measured between 22-24 cm/8.6-9.4 inches. The maximum recorded is 34 cm/1.1 foot.

Current Rare Mythical Sightings: This shark hasn’t been seen since the 1990’s.

Teeth and Jaw: The mouth is long. The teeth differ in each sex. Males have longer teeth than females. Males barely have 3 cusps. The middle much, much longer than the two surrounding cusplets, that are almost invisible to see with the naked eye. Females teeth are much smaller with 3-5 cusps, the center cusp being much longer than the surrounding cusplets, but the cusplets are much more visible in the teeth of the female.

Head: The head is broad. The snout is short.

Denticles: There are no enlarged rough dermal denticles on the middle of the back.

Tail: The tail is slender.

Demographic, Distribution, Habitat, Environment and Range: The Whitespotted Izak or African Spotted catshark can be found in the western Indian Ocean in South Africa in KwaZulu-Natal, in southern Mozambique (4° S and 37° S). The type specimen was caught off of Cape Point. They can be found on the upper slopes of the continental shelf between 220-420 m. They may be found in Madagascar, Kenya, and Tanzania. They are considered bathydemersal.

Diet: They eat small bony fish, crustaceans, and cephalopods.

Aesthetic Identification: The Whitespotted Izak or African Spotted catshark has tiny black dots that are scattered beneath the head. The yellow-brown to dark-brown upper surface is densely covered with small close-spaced dark brown spots. Faint saddles are sometimes present but without reticulations, blotches, horizontal stripes, or tear marks. They are whiteish ventrally. There are a few white spots scattered on the back and the dorsal fin insertions. There is a highlighted C or V shaped dark mark on the dorsal fin webs. There are short angular dorsal fins.

Biology and Reproduction: They are oviparous with the egg cases laid in pairs.

Behavioral Traits, Sensing and Intelligence: There is partial sexual segregation. Males are more numerous than females off the coast of KwaZulu-Natal. They are found in equal numbers off the coast of Mozambique.

Whitespotted Izak or African Spotted Catshark Future and Conservation: They are considered endangered. They could have possibly vanished, but this is not determined yet. They were formally common amongst their range, but they have not been caught in research trawls in over 15 years. Their range has been heavily fished. Not a single specimen has been collected from this area since 1972. ORI data sheets confirm that specimens collected between 1964 and 1972 were apparently abundant, particularly off Mozambique in May 1969, and off Durban in June 1971. The only specimens of this species that have been collected since this date have been those from Madagascar in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s.

Whitespotted Izak or African Spotted Catshark Recorded Attacks on Humans: Not a threat to humans.