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Shark picture - green sawfish





Tope/Soupfin Shark



Photographs copyright Andy Murch. All rights reserved.


View all images of Soupfin Sharks in the Shark Pictures Database


Common Names: Tope, soupfin shark, school shark.

Latin Name: Galeorhinus galeus.

Family: Triakidae.



Slender plain grey/tan upper body. Belly in front of pelvic fins pale. Demarcation line may be smooth or mottled. Snout long and pointed. Very small anterior nasal flaps. Triangular first dorsal. Second dorsal much smaller than first. Lower caudal lobe very long and well defined. Well developed upper caudal lobe with extremely pronounced upper caudal notch.

Juveniles have black markings on fins.



Maximum recorded size: Male 175cm. Female 195cm. 30-40cm at birth. Size varies by region.



Shallow, inshore sandy bays to deep continental drop offs. Sometimes in kelp forests. Surface to 471m. Usually near bottom.


Abundance and distribution:

Broad ranging but rarely oceanic. Soupfin sharks can be found in the North Atlantic from Iceland to Norway and south to northwest Africa including all of the Mediterranean Sea. Possibly also along the coast of tropical Western Africa. In the Southern Atlantic soupfins are present throughout temperate western Africa and off of South America from Chile to Brazil.

In the Pacific, soupfins range from Northern Canada to Baja and along most of the South American coast. Also Hawaii and Australia and New Zealand.



Bony fishes and invertebrates.



Often forms small schools. Migrates from deep water into shallow bays at night to hunt.



Viviparous without yolk sac placenta. Recorded litter size 6-52. Gestation approximately 12 months.



La Jolla Shores, Southern California.


Conservation Status: The IUCN lists the spotted gully shark as 'Vulnerable': "G. galeus has a long history of exploitation in target fisheries in most parts of its range where the species has been in demand for liver-oil, meat and fins. The main threat to the various populations of G. galeus is from targeting widely with gillnets and longlines. Minor threats include fishing with trawls and other methods. There is accidental capture of pups on nursery grounds in gillnets of small mesh-size and recreational fishers operating in inshore shallow-water areas. Habitat degradation in potential nursery areas due to development and siltation may also negatively affect recruitment to populations of this species. Other threats are habitat degradation by the effects of trawling through disturbance of substrates (Walker 1998) and installation of high voltage direct current sub-sea cables with induced magnetic and electric fields across their migration lanes (Walker 2001).
In south-eastern Australia, the harvest of G. galeus began in the mid-1920s, but increased markedly during the war years with the market for shark liver oil. Catches levelled off at about 2,000 t live weight during 1949 to 1957 with the decline of the liver market and as the fishery spread from inshore to offshore waters (Olsen 1959). Establishment of the shark meat market and the introduction of gillnets in 1964, production rose rapidly to peak during 1969 at 3,158 t. Following a ban on the sale of large school sharks in 1972 because of high mercury levels, catches declined for about 10 years. With relaxation of the mercury laws catches again increased, reaching 3,060 t during 1986. Since 1986, the total annual catch from the Southern Shark Fishery had declined to 172 t by 2001 (Walker 1999, Walker et al. 2002). The mature biomass has been estimated from age-based model outputs to be below 20% of the level before commercial target fishing began (Punt et al. 2000).
In New Zealand, G. galeus have been exploited since the mid-1940s. With the demise of the liver oil fishery in the 1950s, a market for the meat developed (some is exported to Australia) and catches peaked at 5,000 t live weight in 1984 (Francis 1998, Paul and Sanders 2001). Catch levels have been ~3,000 t for the past decade, but it is not known if this, or the current commercial TACs (3,107 t), are sustainable, or if they are at levels that will allow the stocks to move towards a size that will support the maximum sustainable yield.
Southwest Atlantic
In this region mean annual individual fecundity is only seven pups, age at first breeding is about 13 years in both sexes, and natural mortality rate is low as evidenced from the longevity of 40 years (Peres and Vooren 1991, Ferreira and Vooren 1991). These parameter values characterize the species as susceptible to recuitment overfishing. In Uruguay the species was fished intensively in the 1940s for liver oil. The southwestern Atlantic population of the species has been subject to intensive fishing in its entire area of distribution since about 1985. Statistics of the fishery CPUE in south Brazil and Uruguay are evidence that as a result of intensive fishing from 1985 the abundance of the species had decreased by 85% in 1997, and the fishery in this region continues without restraint (Miranda and Vooren 2003). Since 1995 the species has disappeared in the coastal fishery off Uruguay (A. Domingo unpublished data). The species migrates seasonally between wintering grounds in south Brazil and Uruguay and summer grounds off Argentina where the pupping and nursery areas are situated, where intense and directed fishery of gravid females occurs and where critical habitat is known to have been lost (e.g., Bahía Blanca and El Rincón). Yields in Argentina dropped sharply after intensive fishing and high landings in the years 1988 to 1992 (Chiaramonte 1998). Since then declines have continued. The declared landings for ?sharks+cazón? in the SAGyP statistics (the national authority for fisheries in Argentina), and in which G. galeus comprises most of these landings, show overall declines of over 80% between 1992 (4,012 t) and 2004 (757 t), with landings around 1,000t or less since 2000, yet in the mid-1980s the landings were >5,000 t. These declines are attributed to recruitment overfishing and if the fishery continues, the population will very likely be extirpated. Despite this, in the late 1990s new access to the fishery was granted to a large number of artisanal fishermen (at present around 700 are registered in Buenos Aires province), and no management is in place.
South Africa

In South Africa Galeorhinus galeus is targeted (mainly when catches from other non-elasmobranch fisheries are low) in longline and handline fisheries and taken incidentally in artisanal and recreational fisheries. In 2003, 23 permits were issued to shark fishermen, however no seasonal/temporal restrictions have been placed on the fishery nor on number or size of G. galeus landed. Kroese and Sauer (1998) determined that the landed catch of soupfin shark between 1992 and 1994 reached a peak of 48 t (1994, dressed carcass weight) and a minimum of 5.2 t in 1993. Anecdotal evidence suggests that CPUE of soupfin sharks has declined in the last 15 years (G. Kingma, soupfin shark longline fishermen, Hout Bay, Western Province, pers. comm. February, 2003) and data from the South African Shark Management Plan (MCM 2002) indicates that the annual commercial linefish catch of soupfin shark has significantly declined, from a peak of 249 t in 1992 to 71 t in 1999. It is unclear whether this is due to a change in target species, change in effort, or change in the population size. According to Freer (1992), 41.6% of total catch by mass in the Gansbaai longline fishery is female, 87.4% of which are immature females. This indicates that a relatively high number of immature females are being extracted from the population, thereby possibly influencing future recruitment (Freer 1992). Similar to other populations of soupfin shark, those in South Africa segregate according to sex and size. This combined with life-history parameters make these sharks vulnerable to over-exploitation. There are indications that the South African population is currently being fully exploited and any increase in fishing pressure may result in a decline of biomass to below 40% of the pre-exploitation condition (McCord 2005).
Northeast Atlantic
Tope is of limited commercial importance in commercial fisheries in the Northeast Atlantic where it is typically a bycatch of mixed demersal and pelagic fisheries, especially French vessels fishing in the English Channel, Western Approaches and northern Bay of Biscay. Data is apparently limited, as landings data are often included as "dogfishes and hounds". Nevertheless, England and France have species-specific landings data and there are limited data from Denmark and Ireland in recent years (ICES 2004). France appears to target tope, and reported landings of approximately 350 to 500 t/year during the 1990s (landings were higher in 1987 at 600 t, some 6% of the total shark catches, with tope ranking third behind spurdog and lesser spotted dogfish). Tope also feature in catch statistics for Portugal Mainland and in the Azores. In the Azores this species is a bycatch of the demersal longline fishery. Biological data for Northeast Atlantic stocks are limited (SGRST 2002).
Tope is important in recreational fisheries with some anglers specializing in tope catching. Recently, a newspaper article (Fishing News, June 17th 2005) urged English North Sea fishermen to target tope for meat and for the fin trade out of Lowestoft, East Anglia. This has raised cause for concern, including among the recreational fishers (see for further details). The value of this species for recreational angling on the south coast of England (and presumably elsewhere off the UK) is high.
Although no direct fisheries for G. galeus exist in the Mediterranean, it was traditionally caught as bycatch in gillnets and trammel nets in the Northern Adriatic Sea, also as bycatch of semi-industrial (Adriatic Sea and Sicily) and artisanal fisheries in pelagic and demersal nets, deep longlines, drift lines and troll lines (Fisher et al. 1987). A small directed gillnet fishery targeting Mustelus spp. and Squalus spp. operated off the Balearic Islands in the past which reported catches of G. galeus. In recent times, only bottom trawl and longline fisheries have reported continuous bycatch of G. galeus, and such reports are very rare nowadays. The development of the bottom trawl fisheries in the Mediterranean over the first half of the 20th century in the northern range, and during the latter half in the southern range, is considered as one of the principal factors responsible of the decline of many demersal elasmobranch species. In this sense, both overfishing and habitat degradation must be considered as factors potentially responsible for declines. The analysis of the Medits trawl survey data from 1994?1999 shows a very low frequency of occurrence for G. galeus in the Mediterranean (only five positive hauls or 0.05 %), although it should be noted that trawling is a minor threat to this species and numbers in trawl surveys would not be expected to be high. Its overall biomass was estimated to be 0.2 kg/km² for the Mediterranean. The standing stock biomass was estimated at 126 t (0.23%) (Baino et al. 2001). Off Italy, Relini et al. (2000) reported the capture of G. galeus in only one of the 11 zones studied as part of the Italian national project (9,281 hauls in total, around the Italian coast, from 1985?1998), although data on biomass for this species were not provided. Tuna trap data from the Northern Tyrrhenian Sea from 1898 to 1992 shows a dramatic decrease in the abundance of G. galeus catches (80 individuals between 1898 and 1905; only eight for the 1906 to 1913 period and 0 from 1914 to 1922) (Vacchi et al. 2002). Thus, these data can perhaps be interpreted as an indication of early depletion of the population at least in shallow waters in this area, which could also have occurred in other Mediterranean areas where similar practices historically operated. Data from the Medits survey for the Adriatic Sea were compared with those from the survey Hvar, carried out in 1948 (Jukic-Peladic 2001). Although no data on individual species captured biomass are reported, G. galeus appeared in the 1948 survey, but not in the Medits survey. Data on elasmobranch landings from the long-line fleet at the Palma de Mallorca (Balearic Islands) central fish auction wharf reported only one specimen in 1996 (B. Reviriego pers.comm.), six in 1999 (G. Morey pers.comm.) and recent regular visits have reported no further specimens. In addition, G. galeus was not specifically reported in the official landing statistics, since it did not appear in the 1999 to 2001 period, thus furthering the difficulties in monitoring of the population. For the Spanish long-line fleet off the Levantine coast, operating mainly in the Alboran Sea and around the Balearic Islands, the observed catch rate (as bycatch) of G. galeus is about five specimens per ship and year (D. Macías pers.comm.) In Tunisian waters, where there exists a lower fishing pressure than off the northern Mediterranean coasts, the species is considered to be very rare (Bradai 2000).
Eastern North Pacific
In the Northeast Pacific the shark fishery off California rapidly expanded during the 1930s due to the demand for liver-oil. Catches increased, peaking at 4,185 t in 1939 with around 75 to 80% of the catch being G. galeus and prices for the liver-oil rose from some US$50/t in 1937 to US$2,000/t in 1941 (Ripley 1946). While the fishery was intensive and expanded rapidly it only lasted eight years, during which CPUE was reported to decline dramatically. Although the fishery collapsed in the 1940s (due primarily to the synthetic production of Vitamin A) it seems unlikely that the stock itself collapsed. Only the large animals were being targeted, with 10-inch mesh size, fishermen were not interested in catching the young animals, which had lower grade Vitamin A in the liver oil. Therefore while it appeared that the adult stock might have collapsed there would have been large stocks of juveniles to allow for a population recovery. Since the 1940s given the low price for soupfin shark and low interest in the meat there has been no economic incentive to target it, and it is now caught at low levels as bycatch with bottom and pelagic gillnets, bottom and pelagic longlines, bottom and pelagic trawls, and with hook-and-line. (Ripley 1946, Ebert 2003, Compagno in prep b). Thus although there has been no stock assessment for over 50 years, the fishing mortality can be expected to be low. Cailliet et al. (1992) reported the fishery over the past several decades had remained fairly steady, even declining due to increasing fishing restrictions.

CITATION: Walker, T.I., Cavanagh, R.D., Stevens, J.D., Carlisle, A.B., Chiaramonte, G.E., Domingo, A., Ebert, D.A., Mancusi, C.M., Massa, A., McCord, M., Morey, G., Paul, L.J., Serena, F. & Vooren, C.M. 2006. Galeorhinus galeus. In: IUCN 2013. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.1. <>.


Similar species:

Because of the tope shark's extremely extensive range, it overlaps with many similar species including many smoothhound species. Identification is further complicated by fishermen that lump all species together under the heading of 'tollo' or 'cazon' etc. Smoothhounds generally have much larger nasal flaps and a less pronounced lower caudal lobe.


Reaction to divers:

Very skittish. Difficult to approach while free diving and almost impossible to get close on scuba. Any noise or camera flashes are generally enough to make this shark flee. Best results have been to free dive in shallow water where topes can be seen congregating and then hide behind a rock or kelp until they swim past.

Experiments with carrying chum to bring the sharks closer were completely unsuccessful. Perhaps the sharks are not there to feed or perhaps the sharks feel too threatened to accept food while in the presence of snorkelers.


Diving logistics:

The best place that we have found to encounter soupfin sharks is just south of the Marine Room Restaurant at La Jolla Shores, Southern California. During the summer months, soupfins enter into very shallow water. However, when exactly this shark is likely to appear is difficult to estimate but once they arrive they generally stay for a while so it would be worth keeping an eye on sightings through, and other San Diego based diving websites.


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