Jan 102010
photo provided courtesy of Ed Bierman on Flickr Creative CommonsHomePacific Coast of North America
Habitatkelp forests
Nichesmall predatory shark
Favorite Foodsea urchins and crustaceans
Lengthup to 4 feet
Weightup to 25 pounds
Statuslocally common
Threatshabitat destruction

In the underwater kelp forests off the coast of California, a small shark makes its home on the seafloor. The slow and solitary horn shark is an active hunter by night, using its pectoral and pelvic fins to “crawl” along the seafloor in search of crustaceans and other invertebrates to eat. During the day, this small shark hides inside rocky caves away from the prying eyes of much larger predators.

Since they are so slow, have tiny mouths, and are small enough to be gulped down in one bite by larger sharks, horn sharks avoid being eaten mostly by not being seen. Their stripes and spots allow them to blend in with the sandy seafloor to evade unfriendly eyes, and hunting by night reduces the chances they’ll be attacked. However, there is one trick up the horn shark’s sleeve that can save its life even if it is snared.

Horn sharks are so named because of the bony projections on their dorsal fins that act as defensive weapons against predators. These spines are relics of shark ancestors that sported similar defensive weapons in the prehistoric seas.

Horn sharks are still locally common in the coastal waters of Western North America. However, like so many other animals living in this unique ecosystem, they are ultimately dependent on kelp. These giant underwater plants provide hiding places, food, and anchors for horn shark egg cases. Habitat destruction endangers all animals living in the kelp forests.

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