A large, sluggish shark, the prickly shark (Echinorhinus cookei) is a rare deepwater species. It has a stout, flabby body covered in numerous thorn-like, closely-set teeth known as ‘denticles’, from which this species gains its common name (2) (4) (5) (7) (8) (9). The denticles are large with sharp tips and star-shaped bases, and are absent from around the mouth and the underside of the snout (4) (5) (6) (9).
The prickly shark is light to dark grey, dark brown or black on the upperside, with a lighter underside and a white area around its mouth and on the underside of its snout (2) (3) (5) (8) (9). A dark line extends along each side of its body, from the gills to the tail (9).
This species lacks an anal fin and has two equally-sized dorsal fins, which are set far back on the body and have black rear margins (2) (3) (4) (5) (8) (9). The tail is broad and stout and lacks a notch towards the tip, which is present in other species of shark (2) (9).
The blade-like teeth of the prickly shark are found in both jaws and have multiple points (8), usually up to three on each side of the tooth (2). The teeth of the juvenile prickly shark have only one point, and it has a relatively slender body when compared with the stouter adult (2) (9).
- Also known as
- bramble shark, Cooke's shark, prickle shark, spinous shark, spiny shark.
Prickly shark biology
Although it is a relatively sluggish shark, the prickly shark is able to move quickly when chasing prey (1). It feeds by using its specially adapted mouth to create a vacuum effect, sucking its prey into its mouth (6) (8). The diet of this species is mainly composed of young bluntnose sixgill sharks (Hexanchus griseus), spurdog sharks (Squalus spp.) and egg cases from other sharks, as well as cephalopods, crustaceans and bony, benthic fishes (2) (4) (6) (8) (10) (11). The only known predator of the prickly shark is the bluntnose sixgill shark, which takes younger individuals (8).
The prickly shark is ovoviviparous, with foetuses developing within eggs, which then hatch inside the female. One of the most fecund shark species, the prickly shark is known to give birth to up to 114 young at a time (1) (2) (5) (8), which measure around 40 to 45 centimetres at birth (1). The male prickly shark reaches sexual maturity when it is about 240 centimetres long and the female when it is around 300 centimetres long (8). The reproductive cycle and courtship techniques of this species are poorly known (1).
Mostly found in deep water, the prickly shark appears to make seasonal migrations to shallow inshore areas, the purpose of which is unknown (8) (9).
Prickly shark range
The prickly shark is found in the Pacific Ocean, where it is known from the waters surrounding Australia, Japan, New Zealand, Palau, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Chile, Peru, Taiwan, China and Hawaii and California in the United States (1) (2) (3) (9) (10).
Species with a similar range
Prickly shark habitat
The prickly shark inhabits tropical and temperate waters. It is usually found near the soft, sandy sea bed on insular and continental shelves between depths of 10 and 400 metres, but it may also occur up to depths of 1,500 metres in some areas (1) (5) (7) (8) (9). Although the prickly shark mostly prefers deep, cool water, it is also occasionally found in shallower inshore waters (8).
Species found in a similar habitat
Prickly shark status
The prickly shark is classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List (1).
Prickly shark threats
Deepwater and trawl fisheries are known to catch the prickly shark as bycatch, and as deepwater fishing becomes more common, the frequency of unnecessary deaths of this species could increase (1) (8). The prickly shark has no commercial value (8).
Prickly shark conservation
There are not known to be any specific conservation measures currently in place for the prickly shark.
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- Anal fin
- In fish, an unpaired fin on the under surface of the fish, behind the anus.
- Relating to the lowermost region of a body of water such as an ocean or lake, or to the organisms that live there.
- In the fishing industry, the part of the catch made up of non-target species.
- A group of marine molluscs with grasping tentacles and either an internal or external shell. Includes squids, octopuses, cuttlefish and nautiloids.
- Continental shelf
- A region of relatively shallow water, not usually deeper than 200 metres, surrounding each of the continents.
- Diverse group of animals with jointed limbs and a hard external skeleton, characterised by the possession of two pairs of antennae, one pair of mandibles (mouthparts used for handling and processing food) and two pairs of maxillae (appendages used in eating, which are located behind the mandibles). Includes crabs, lobsters, shrimps, woodlice and barnacles.
- Dorsal fin
- The unpaired fin found on the back of the body of fish, or the raised structure on the back of most cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises).
- A measure of fertility, such as sperm count or egg count or the number of live offspring produced by an organism.
- Insular shelf
- A region of relatively shallow water surrounding an island.
- Producing young that develop inside eggs, but the eggs hatch inside the female’s body and the young are born live.
IUCN Red List (April, 2012)
FishBase - Prickly shark (April, 2012)
Eschmeyer, W.N., Herald, O.W., Mammann, H. and Gnagy, J. (1983) A Field Guide to Pacific Coast Fishes of North America. Houghton Mifflin, New York.
Taylor, L. (1993) Sharks of Hawaii: Their Biology and Cultural Significance. University of Hawaii Press, Hawaii.
Compagno, L.J.V. (1984) Sharks of the World. An Annotated and Illustrated Catalogue of Shark Species Known to Date. Vol. 4: Part 1: Hexanchiformes to Lamniformes. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome. Available at:
Burnie, D. (2001) Animal. Dorling Kindersley, London.
Aguirre, H., Madrid, V.J. and Virgen, J.A. (2002) Presence of Echinorhinus cookei oﬀcentral Paciﬁc Mexico. Journal of Fish Biology, 61: 1403-1409.
Ebert, D.A. (2003) Sharks, Rays and Chimaeras. University of California, California.
Castro, J.I. (2011) The Sharks of North America. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Crow, G.L., Lowe, C.G. and Wetherbee, B.M. (1996) Shark records from longline fishing programs in Hawai‘i with comments on Pacific Ocean distributions. Pacific Science, 50: 382-392.
Dawson, C.L. and Starr, R.M. (2009) Movements of subadult prickly sharks Echinorhinus cookei in the Monterey Canyon. Marine Ecology Progress Series, 386: 253-262.