Photo of a Spurdog by Mark Conlin

Sharks, skates and rays (collectively known as Elasmobranchs) are found all along the Irish coast. Many people don’t realise, but there are actually 72 different species of elasmobranchs documented in our waters, primarily due to the wide range of marine habitats along our coasts and our island’s position on the continental shelf. Our productive waters offer these animals great feeding opportunities, so many highly migratory species will pass through during the summer months but we also have many species which call Irish waters home all year round!

Spurdog – Gobach/ Fi (fada) Ogach// Madadh Garbh – Squalus acanthias – Key Facts: 

The spurdog is listed as endangered in the 2016 Irish Red List for Cartilaginous Fish and it is found all around the Irish coast predominately in coastal waters, although they can also be found in deep waters. They are widely distributed from as far North as Iceland, down to North Africa. 

  • These typically small sharks grow to around 122 cm in females and 95 cm in males
  • They get their name from having small spines at the base of their dorsal fins. 
  • They are greyish brown in colour and can have a spotted pattern but their most defining feature are their small spines.
  • These animals are long-lived and can reach 75 years of age. 
  • They reach sexual maturity late as well with it taking somewhere between 10-15 years. 
  • They have one of the longest pregnancies in the entire animal kingdom and researchers believe it can be up to 18-22 months! 
  • They typically have a litter of pups every 2 years and as the female grows in size her litter number will grow as well (she can have 10 to 21 young). 

Due to these factors, late to sexually mature, slow growing, long-lived and long pregnancies only every 2 years, the spurdog has many risk factors and overfishing is a real threat. 

They tend to travel in large groups and these groups can be sexually segregated. This means that an entire shoal of pregnant female spurdogs could be caught and killed in one go. 

A recent Irish quota has been confirmed for spurdog for 2023 and it is extremely important that extra precautions must be taken to ensure we don’t risk losing this species due to careless overfishing.

Marine Protected Area legislation is being developed by the Irish government however the process needs to move more quickly if we are to effectively meet our targets and turn the tide on biodiversity loss in the ocean. Fair Seas is campaigning to ensure the ocean, our greatest source of biodiversity and most powerful climate ally, is given the protection it urgently needs. 

Fair Seas hosted the inaugural World Ocean Day conference in June 2023. We welcomed ocean advocates, government, industry and key stakeholders together, to map out the next steps for Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in Irish waters. If you missed it or would like to revisit the sessions which took place, our conference recordings are now available to view on our Youtube channel.

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