The tope shark (Galeorhinus galeus) is a long, slender shark, with large, almond-shaped eyes and a sizable mouth, containing sharp, triangular teeth; making it one of our more interesting, predatory marine species. Like most other marine vertebrates, tope shark have a much lighter underside than their bluish-to-dusky-grey top side – this patterning, known as countershading makes them difficult to see either from above or below, by both their predators (e.g. larger sharks, minke whales etc, in this region) and by their prey.
Adult males can reach a maximum length of 193cm, and females have been known to reach even greater lengths; as much as 195cm. Juveniles under 61cm differ from their larger counterparts in that they usually have black tips on their dorsal and caudal fins, and a white edge on the pectoral fins.
IUCN status Vulnerable
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) recognises the threatened nature of this species, struggling as it is to combat the various human-induced threats it suffers; and has categorised it as Vulnerable (V), accordingly. The most well-known threat to this species is that which faces so many other shark species: the shark fin trade. In addition to this, tope shark numbers are dwindling because of increased harvesting – of its skin for leather and oil from their liver – and because of sport fishing.
Where to find them:
Tope sharks can be found throughout temperate waters around the world, with two notable exceptions: the northwest Pacific and northwest Atlantic. They tend to prefer less coastal areas, though are still sometimes seen within visual range of the shore; and can be found anywhere from the sea bed, to the surface, depending on what type of prey animal they’re currently hunting.
Locally, the Liverpool Bay Marine Life Trust has found tope sharks ~18 miles off the coast of Southport, Northwest England. Based on their typical range and habitat preference, and records from local fisherman, we expect them to occupy at least the majority of Liverpool Bay; and our on-going shark tagging programme is at least in part aimed at confirming this information.
The tope shark is an opportunistic predator, hunting a wide range of species, based on what is available at the time, with a preference for bony fish such as mackerel (particularly in Liverpool Bay), cod, herring, sardines and whiting. When these species aren’t available, tope shark will happily switch to bottom-dwelling animals, like crustaceans and molluscs.
Did you know: A 1.67m tope shark currently holds the record as the largest shark tagged by the Liverpool Bay Marine Life Trust!