Shysharks are a genus of catsharks that are endemic to southern Africa. The Haploblepharus genus has four species of shyshark in it, of which three are endemic along the coast of South Africa. All of the four species are benthic (bottom-dwelling) sharks and have broad flattened heads with a rounded snout. The genus name Haploblepharus, in Greek, means ‘single eyelid’. This refers to the nictating membrane, which is a protective ‘eyelid’ that all sharks posess. Other animals that have nictating membranes are some reptiles and birds, polar bears, seals and aardvarks. These sharks are oviparous, which means that they lay eggs, which they wrap around sea plants. There is no parental investment in the eggs once they are laid. The baby shark develops within the egg, also known as a mermaid’s purse, for up to 9 months, hatches and is fully self-sufficient from then on. The baby sharks average around 9 cm when they hatch.
At the Aquarium Foundation, we commonly have two of the four species of shyshark: the puffadder shyshark and the dark shyshark. These ambassador species arrive at the Two Oceans Aquarium by accident, through seaweed collections. The eggs of the sharks are found amongst the seaweed and brought to the Discovery Centres, where they live with us until they hatch. Once the sharks are big enough, they feature in our shark lessons, giving children the opportunity to see a real-life shark up close. They teach them that sharks are not scary and vicious, as the media makes them out to be.
Puffadder shyshark or
Species & IUCN status
More research is needed for ‘Happy Eddie’, as it is not clear what the actual population size of this shark is and whether there are several smaller populations along the coast. The puffadder shyshark is also commonly mistaken for the other sharks in the same genus, which means that their population could be much larger than previously thought. Potential threats to the puffadder shyshark are fishing and harvesting. While they are not specifically targeted as a fisheries species, they can end up as unwanted by-catch by both recreational and commercial fishermen. Domestic and urban waste is also potentially harmful to the puffadder shyshark and the habitat it lives in.
Happy Eddies can be found from Langebaan Lagoon, along the west coast of South Africa, to Algoa Bay, along the southern coast in the Eastern Cape. They are endemic to South Africa.
Research of this species has shown that the sharks that live along the west coast seem to prefer to live in shallow rocky reefs and kelp forests. The sharks found along the southern coast, where kelp forests are not common, tend to be found in areas with sandy sea floors. The range in water depth is from 1 metre to 130 metres.
Since shysharks are bottom-dwellers, they feed on bottom-dwelling animals. Their most important food source is a wide variety of crustaceans, such as crabs and prawns. Other animals that they also eat are marine worms called polychaetes, some bony fish, such as anchovies and gobies, and even cephalopods, such as squid and octopus.
The puffadder shyshark gets its name from the markings that it has, since they resemble those of a puff adder snake (Bitis arietans), which is a common snake in Africa. That is where the commonalities end, however. The term shyshark comes from the way shysharks curl up when threatened. They roll up their body and place their tale over their eyes, as if shy. The puffadder shyshark has up to 30 rows of teeth in the upper jaw, and up to 33 rows of teeth in the lower jaw. Their teeth are, however, not what we are used to. They are much more flattened, which aids in crushing prey, rather than biting it. This is especially helpful when eating crustaceans. Happy Eddies reach sexual maturity when they are around 7 years old but can live as long as 22 years. They reach a maximum average length of about 60 cm.
Spotlight on educator
Kirshia Govender-Koumbatis –
Environmental educator and marine
science course facilitator.
Kirshia is a marine scientist and qualified teacher. She is currently completing her Master’s in Education at the University of Cape Town. Kirshia teaches daily lessons in our lower discovery centre and especially enjoys interacting with high school kids. One of her favourite animals are sharks and she is passionate about creating awareness about them and the need to conserve these amazing animals.
Spotlight on educator
Xavier Zylstra – Deputy head of
education and marine science
Xavier is a qualified teacher with more than 30 years of experience. He completed an undergraduate degree at the University of Cape Town in zoology, after which he completed his postgraduate diploma in teaching life sciences. He has taught in our discovery centres for more than 10 years now and is the co-author of our Marine Sciences CAPS curriculum document and online resources book.