Let’s learn about the Puffadder shyshark (Haploblepharus edwardsii), a shyshark in the family Scyliorhinidae. This shark is endemic to the South African coastline preferring temperate waters. You can often find them in rocky reefs or sandy bottoms inshore. Ranging from the intertidal zone to depths of up to 130 meters. A relatively small shark, growing up to 60 cm, possesses a slender, flattened body and head. These sharks are currently listed as endangered by the IUCN even though they are completely harmless to humans. Cape RADD is doing its part in helping understand, defend and protect this species.

Description of the Puffadder shyshark

It has a relatively small size, reaching a total length of about 60 cm. Its slender and flattened body, coupled with its compact head, contributes to its unusually small appearance compared to larger shark species.

One of the most striking features of the Puffadder shyshark is its unique pattern. The shark’s dorsal surface has a series of dark-edged, bright orange “saddles/bow ties” which run along its back. These vibrant markings contrast sharply against the lighter background, making the shark easily recognizable. The Puffadder shyshark is dotted with numerous small white spots, adding to its overall aesthetic appeal.

As a bottom-dwelling shark, it has spiracles behind its eyes. Spiracles are small, slit-like openings that serve as accessory respiratory organs in some shark species. In the case of the Puffadder Shyshark, these spiracles help facilitate the intake of oxygen-rich water while the shark rests on the seafloor, as it often does during the day.

The combination of its small size, distinctive pattern, and unique anatomical features like spiracles makes the Puffadder Shyshark a fascinating and visually captivating species to encounter in the waters off the coast of South Africa.

Puffadder shyshark Habitats

A variety of habitats along the coast of South Africa have Puffadder Shysharks. They prefer areas with suitable shelter and ample food sources. These sharks inhabit kelp forests, rocky reefs, and sandy or rocky bottoms. They seek refuge in crevices and among underwater structures. Kelp forests, characterized by towering kelp plants, provide an ideal environment for Puffadder Shysharks. They navigate through swaying kelp fronds, using them as cover while hunting for prey or seeking shelter from larger predators.

Rocky reefs are another favoured habitat for Puffadder Shysharks. These formations provide an abundance of nooks and crannies where the sharks can hide and seek refuge. The rocky substrate supports a diverse array of marine life, including small fish and invertebrates, which serve as prey for the Puffadder Shysharks.

Along the coast of South Africa, Puffadder Shysharks inhabit depths ranging from the intertidal zone to around 130 meters. They are present along much of the coastline, but certain regions are more commonly associated with sightings of these sharks. False Bay, near Cape Town, serves as a hotspot for Puffadder Shysharks, with reports of sightings in areas such as Simon’s Town and Muizenberg. Additionally, these sharks frequently visit the rocky shores and kelp forests of the Eastern Cape, particularly around areas like Port Elizabeth and East London. Understanding their habitat preferences and distribution is crucial for conservation efforts aimed at protecting this unique species and its marine ecosystem.

Behaviour of the Puffadder shyshark

During the day, Puffadder Shysharks retreat to crevices and rocky shelters. They hide from predators and conserve energy. This behaviour helps them avoid detection and reduce predation risk.

Puffadder Shysharks are opportunistic predators. They primarily prey on small fish, crustaceans, and other bottom-dwelling organisms. Using their keen senses, including smell and electroreception, they detect prey. They employ a stalking approach to capture their target stealthily once the prey is located.

A unique adaptation of shysharks is their ability to ‘freeze’ or ‘play dead’ when threatened. When facing potential predators or stressful situations, these sharks curl up, tuck their fins close, and remain motionless on the seabed. This is where the name “shyshark” comes from. This behaviour confuses predators and allows the shark to escape unnoticed.


Puffadder Shysharks use oviparity to reproduce, with females laying eggs instead of giving birth. The eggs are tough, leathery cases called “mermaid’s purses,” protecting the developing embryos. Females deposit the eggs in hidden locations like crevices or under rocks to reduce predation risk. The tendrils at the top and bottom of the egg cases anchor the eggs onto seaweeds or sea fans.

The incubation period for Puffadder Shyshark eggs varies but generally lasts up to three months. Once the embryos fully develop, they hatch from the egg cases, and the juvenile sharks emerge. Puffadder Shysharks typically reach sexual maturity at around two to three years of age, influenced by factors like food availability and water temperature. Understanding their reproductive biology is vital for conservation efforts to preserve healthy populations of these fascinating creatures in their natural habitat.

Conservation Status and Efforts

Haploblepharus edwardsii is currently listed as endangered with a decreasing population.

Conservation efforts for Puffadder Shysharks include research, habitat protection, and public awareness initiatives. Cape RADD conduct Research expeditions to study shark behavior and habitat preferences. You can be directly involved in this research by joining one of our Citizen Science Snorkel trips. They provide valuable data to inform conservation strategies. Marine protected areas (MPAs) safeguard important habitats for Puffadder Shysharks as they mitigate human impacts such as overfishing and pollution. Public education programs raise awareness about the importance of sharks. We engage communities in conservation efforts. Collaborative efforts between government agencies, research institutions, and NGOs are crucial. We implement effective conservation measures and ensure long-term sustainability. These initiatives aim to preserve healthy populations of Puffadder Shysharks and their habitats.


  1. Compagno, L.J.V., Dando, M., and Fowler, S. (2005). Sharks of the World. Princeton University Press.
  2. Ebert, D.A., Fowler, S.L., and Compagno, L.J.V. (2013). Sharks of the World: A Fully Illustrated Guide. Wild Nature Press.
  3. FishBase: A Global Information System on Fishes. Available at: https://www.fishbase.se/ (Accessed: 08/04/2024).
  4. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Available at: https://www.iucnredlist.org/ (Accessed: 08/04/2024).
  5. MarineBio Conservation Society. Available at: https://marinebio.org/ (Accessed: 08/04/2024).
  6. Shark Research Institute. Available at: https://www.sharks.org/ (Accessed: 08/04/2024).
Categories: News

Mark Fitzgibbon

Mark is a passionate commercial SCUBA diver and marine scientist currently pursuing a Masters degree focusing on the complex relationships between marine parasites and their hosts. With a background in animal health, microscopy, and marine diseases, Mark brings a wealth of expertise to his work, particularly in the realm of shark biology. Driven by his fascination with marine life, Mark actively engages in projects aimed at protecting vulnerable species and habitats, embodying a deep-rooted respect for the ocean and its inhabitants. Mark's commitment to marine science extends beyond academia, as he actively shares his knowledge and passion with others through outreach and education initiatives. Through his dedication to scientific inquiry and conservation, Mark continues to make significant contributions to our understanding of marine ecosystems and the conservation of marine biodiversity.


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