Dusky smoothhound (Mustelus canis)

Dusky smoothhound swimming
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Dusky smoothhound fact file

Dusky smoothhound description

GenusMustelus (1)

The dusky smoothhound (Mustelus canis) is a medium-sized, relatively slender shark with an elongate body, large eyes and a fairly long, tapering, blunt-ended snout (2) (3) (4) (5) (6). Its body is uniformly grey above and white to yellowish-grey below (2) (3) (4) (5) (6), with individuals from dark environments often being much darker than those from paler, sandy habitats (3) (4) (5). Young juvenile dusky smoothhounds have dusky grey tips and white rear margins on the dorsal fins and caudal fin (2) (3) (4) (5).

One of the larger Mustelus species (2) (5), the dusky smoothhound is distinguished from sharks in other genera by its small, flattened teeth, which have bluntly rounded cusps and are arranged in rows (3) (4) (5). Mustelus sharks have two large dorsal fins, the second of which is only slightly smaller than the first. The pelvic and pectoral fins are also fairly large. The anal fin of the dusky smoothhound is smaller than, and positioned just behind, the second dorsal fin, while the caudal fin is asymmetrical, with a much smaller lower than upper lobe (2) (3) (4) (5) (6).

In general, Mustelus species are difficult to separate from one another (2), and the dusky smoothhound can easily be confused with the common smoothhound (Mustelus mustelus) and narrowfin smoothhound (Mustelus norrisi) (2) (3) (5). The dusky smoothhound has been divided into two subspecies, Mustelus canis canis and Mustelus canis insularis. Although almost identical in appearance, M. c. insularis has slightly higher dorsal fins and a longer caudal fin, and juveniles have more conspicuous white fin margins than juvenile M. c. canis. However, the two are mainly separated by their differing number of vertebrae (5).

Also known as
Atlantic smooth dogfish, dusky smooth-hound, smooth dogfish, smooth dogfish shark.
Squalus canis.
Total length: up to 150 cm (2) (3)
up to 12.2 kg (3)

Dusky smoothhound biology

The unusual teeth of the dusky smoothhound are adapted to crushing and grinding prey, rather than biting and tearing it like most other shark species (1) (3) (6). It is an active, nocturnal predator (2) (3) (7) which feeds mainly on large crustaceans, such as rock crabs (Cancer irroratus), lady crabs (Ovalipes ocellatus), blue crabs (Callinectes sapidus) and lobsters. The dusky smoothhound also eats squid, small fish, worms, razor clams (Ensis directus) and other molluscs, and occasionally garbage, such as discarded chicken heads (2) (3) (4) (8). Juveniles feed mainly on crabs, small shrimps and worms (3) (9).

In the North Atlantic Ocean, the dusky smoothhound mates from mid to late summer. The young are born the following May to July (2) (3) (9) (10), after a gestation period of 10 to 12 months (2) (3) (5) (10). In other parts of its range, births may be less seasonal (11). The dusky smoothhound is viviparous, giving birth to live young which have been nourished inside the female by a yolk-sac placenta (2) (3) (4) (5). The female may give birth to between 3 and 20 young at a time, with larger females having larger litters. The young measure about 28 to 39 centimetres at birth (2) (3) (4) (5) (9) (10).

The dusky smoothhound has been recorded using shallow estuaries and tidal marshes as nursery grounds, where the females give birth and where the young then remain and develop for several months (9). This species grows relatively quickly for a shark, with males reaching maturity from about 82 to 99 centimetres in length, and females from about 90 to 108 centimetres (2) (4) (5) (11) (12). These lengths correspond to ages of two to three years and four to five years, respectively (3) (10). The female dusky smoothhound may grow larger than the male (11), and maximum body size is reached at around seven to eight years of age (3). Females may live for up to 16 years in the wild, and males for around 10 years (3) (12).


Dusky smoothhound range

The dusky smoothhound is found in the western Atlantic Ocean, from Massachusetts to Florida in the USA, in the northern Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean and Bermuda, and along the coast of South America from southern Brazil to northern Argentina (1) (3) (4) (5) (6). It may occur in several quite widely separated populations, with little movement of individuals between them (1) (2) (6).

The subspecies M. c. insularis is found only around a number of Caribbean islands, including Cuba, Jamaica, Puerto Rico and the Bahamas, and east to Bermuda (5). In the northern parts of its range, the dusky smoothhound migrates in response to changes in water temperature, moving south in the autumn and north again in spring (2) (3) (4).


Dusky smoothhound habitat

A bottom-dwelling, coastal shark, the dusky smoothhound is typically found in inshore waters to depths of around 200 metres (1) (2) (3) 4) (6). In some areas, it may move into the mouths of rivers, but it is unlikely to be able to survive for long in freshwater (2) (3) (4).

The dusky smoothhound generally prefers areas with muddy or sandy bottoms (2) (4) and it avoids coral reefs (2). The subspecies M. c. insularis is found in deeper water than M. c. canis, having been recorded to depths of 808 metres, and appears to prefer rocky bottoms (5).


Dusky smoothhound status

The dusky smoothhound is classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Near Threatened


Dusky smoothhound threats

The dusky smoothhound appears to be an abundant shark species in parts of its range (1) (2) (3) (4) (6). However, it is fished off Cuba, Venezuela, Brazil, Mexico and probably also elsewhere in the Caribbean (2) (4), and commercial interest in the species has increased in recent years (1) (3) (6). Rapid increases in directed gillnet fishing has caused a decline in the dusky smoothhound in some areas (1) (6).

Many houndsharks (sharks in the family Triakidae) do well in captivity, and species such as the dusky smoothhound are kept in public aquaria, as well as being used as lab animals (3) (4).


Dusky smoothhound conservation

There are currently no management plans or specific protection in place for the dusky smoothhound (1) (6). Although it appears to grow and reproduce relatively fast for a shark species (10) (12), it is still potentially vulnerable to overexploitation (11). More work is needed to predict how the dusky smoothhound population will respond to increased fishing activity, which will help scientists to develop the most appropriate management measures for this species (1) (6) (11).

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Anal fin
In fish, an unpaired fin on the under surface of a fish, behind the anus.
Caudal fin
The tail fin of a fish.
Diverse group of animals with jointed limbs and a hard chitinous exoskeleton, 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 category used in taxonomy, which is below ‘family’ and above ‘species’. A genus tends to contain species that have characteristics in common. The genus forms the first part of a ‘binomial’ Latin species name; the second part is the specific name.
The state of being pregnant; the period from conception to birth.
A diverse group of invertebrates, mainly marine, that have one or all of the following; a horny, toothed ribbon in the mouth (the radula), a shell covering the upper surface of the body, and a mantle or mantle cavity with a type of gill. Includes snails, slugs, shellfish, octopuses and squid.
Active at night.
Pectoral fins
In fish, the pair of fins that are found one on each side of the body just behind the gills. They are generally used for balancing and braking.
Pelvic fins
In fish, the pair of fins found on the underside of the body.
A population usually restricted to a geographical area that differs from other populations of the same species, but not to the extent of being classified as a separate species.
Giving birth to live offspring that develop inside the mother’s body.


  1. IUCN Red List (March, 2011)
  2. Compagno, L.J.V. (1984) Sharks of the World. An Annotated and Illustrated Catalogue of Shark Species Known to Date. Vol. 4: Part 2: Carcharhiniformes. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome. Available at:
  3. Smooth Dogfish Biological Profile, Ichthyology Department, Florida Museum of Natural History (March, 2011)
  4. Carpenter, K.E. (2002) The Living Marine Resources of the Western Central Atlantic. Volume 1: Introduction, Molluscs, Crustaceans, Hagfishes, Sharks, Batoid Fishes, and Chimaeras. Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, Rome. Available at:
  5. Heemstra, P.C. (1997) A review of the smooth-hound sharks (Genus Mustelus, Family Triakidae) of the Western Atlantic Ocean, with descriptions of two new species and a new subspecies. Bulletin of Marine Science, 60(3): 894-928.
  6. Fowler, S.L., Cavanagh, R.D., Camhi, M., Burgess, G.H., Cailliet, G.M., Fordham, S.V., Simpfendorfer, C.A. and Musick, J.A. (2005) Sharks, Rays and Chimaeras: The Status of the Chondrichthyan Fishes. IUCN/SSC Shark Specialist Group, IUCN, Gland. Available at:
  7. Casterlin, M.E.and Reynolds, W.W. (1979) Diel activity patterns of the smooth dogfish shark, Mustelus canis. Bulletin of Marine Science, 29(3): 440-442.
  8. Gelsleichter, J., Musick, J.A. and Nichols, S. (1999) Food habits of the smooth dogfish, Mustelus canis, dusky shark, Carcharhinus obscurus, Atlantic sharpnose shark, Rhizoprionodon terraenovae, and the sand tiger, Carcharias taurus, from the northwest Atlantic Ocean. Environmental Biology of Fishes, 54: 205-217.
  9. Rountree, R.A. (1996) Seasonal abundance, growth, and foraging habits of juvenile smooth dogfish, Mustelus canis, in a New Jersey estuary. Fishery Bulletin, 94: 522-534.
  10. Conrath, C.L. and Musick, J.A. (2002) Reproductive biology of the smooth dogfish, Mustelus canis, in the northwest Atlantic Ocean. Environmental Biology of Fishes, 64: 367-377.
  11. Zagaglia, C.R., Damiano, C., Hazin, F.H.V. and Broadhurst, M.K. (2011) Reproduction in Mustelus canis (Chondrichthyes: Triakidae) from an unexploited population off northern Brazil. Journal of Applied Ichthyology, 27: 25-29.
  12. Conrath, C.L., Gelsleichter, J. and Musick, J.A. (2002) Age and growth of the smooth dogfish (Mustelus canis) in the northwest Atlantic Ocean. Fishery Bulletin, 100: 674-682.

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Dusky smoothhound swimming  
Dusky smoothhound swimming

© Andy Murch / Elasmodiver.com



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