Horn Shark

 Order Heterodontiformes — Bullhead Sharks—Family Heterodontidae

Horn shark from the Cabrillo Mole in Avalon in 2015

Species: Heterodontus francisci (Girard, 1855); from the Greek hetero (different) and odont (tooth) and the Latin francisci (referring to San Francisco). (They have a small pointed tooth at the front of their jaw and a blunt tooth at the rear.)

Alternate Names: Bullhead Shark, Port Jackson shark, horned shark, hornback shark. Called tiburón cabeza de toro, tiburón cornudo or tiburón puerco in Mexico.

Identification: Horn sharks are spotted sharks with a somewhat pig-like snout. They have a strong spine at the front of each dorsal fin (which accounts for their name) and an anal fin. Their coloring is tan to dark brown or grayish with black spots above, pale yellowish below.

Horn shark from the Cabrillo Mole on Catalina Island in 2015

Size: Reported to 48 inches, but the largest verified was just over 38 inches long and 22 pounds. Most hornies caught from piers are under 30 inches in length.

Range:  Found from the Gulf of California to San Francisco.

Habitat: Prefers rocky areas although also found near sandy areas that contain kelp. They are nocturnal, bottom-feeding foragers who prefer to spend their daylight hours resting on the bottom or in caves and crevices. At night they head out in their search for food—primarily squids, urchins, crustaceans, anemones and mollusks—but rarely are they found more than six feet from the bottom.

A horn shark taken at the Long Beach Finger Piers in 2011 by MrWoodstream

Piers: Most are caught at southern California piers but a few are caught as far north as the pier at Cayucos. Generally found near piers that are close to reefs or kelp. Best bets: Ocean Beach Pier, San Clemente Pier, Hermosa Beach Pier, Green Pleasure Pier (Avalon), Cabrillo Mole (Avalon), Santa Monica Pier, Paradise Cove Pier, Gaviota Pier and Goleta Pier.

Shoreline: Occasionally caught by anglers fishing rocky areas near kelp.

Another Catalina horn shark, this one caught by Kyle Pease in 2015

Boats: Sometimes taken by boaters and kayakers fishing the southern California kelp beds.

Bait and Tackle: Crabs, shrimp, squid and small fish are prime baits but hornies appear to take almost any natural bait. Most horn sharks taken by pier anglers are fairly small fish so light-to-medium tackle equipped with size 2 to 2/0 hooks will suffice.

Food Value:  Reported to be quite tasty, similar to most other sharks.

A horn shark taken at the Morro Bay North T-Pier in 2004

Comments: An interesting little shark. Small horn sharks are frequently sold in aquarium shops where they command top prices. They are generally harmless but anglers should be careful of the dorsal spines and be aware that agitated fish may try to bite careless handlers.

Horn sharks are in the Class Chondrichthyes and Subclass Elasmobranchii (as are all sharks and rays) but in the Superorder Galea, which only includes some of the sharks found at California piers. Many of the sharks found at piers are in the Superorder Squalea, which includes sharks as well as guitarfish and rays. Thus some of the sharks are more closely related to rays than to other sharks.

A horn shark taken at the Belmont Veterans Pier in Long Beach in 2009

 

A small horn shark taken from the Goleta Pier in 2008

Horn shark caught at the Redondo Beach Pier in 2003

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