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The smooth-hound is a shark belonging to the family Triakidae, of the genus Mustelus, a Latin term meaning weasel. These slender, crab-eating fish are found in water areas ranging from 6-150 feet (2-46 m) over continental shelves in the Pacific Ocean. Smooth-hound sharks belong to the Carcharhiniformes order of ground sharks, which includes some 277 known species. They range from 45.7 inches (116 cm) to around 64.7 inches (161 cm) long with a maximum length of 4 feet (121.9 cm).
Smooth-hound sharks have two dorsal fins on top of a slim, grey-brown body. Their blunt teeth are suited to their diet of mostly crabs, shrimp and other crustaceans, small fish, and worms found in the rocks and sandy stretches of their shallow habitat. Typically their lifespan lasts from six to nine years. They are not dangerous to humans, but they will bite if provoked. Smooth-hounds roam in schools or as solitary individuals, sometimes associating with spiny dogfish and leopard sharks.
The sharks reach sexual maturity when they are about three years old and have attained a length of 29 inches (74 cm) for females and 24 inches (60 cm) for males. This species gives birth to live young instead of laying eggs. Litters average two to six pups born after ten months, usually in the spring. The baby sharks are fully capable of taking care of themselves at birth, although they are only 8-12 inches (20-30 cm) long.
Predators of smooth-hound sharks include both larger sharks such as hammerheads and blacktips as well as people. The main shark products humans use are meat, the fins for shark fin soup, cartilage, liver oil, and the teeth of some species for ornamentation. The brown smooth-hound especially is a popular game fish.
Sharks are prized aquarium fish, but they’re not for everyone. A smooth-hound needs a large saltwater tank with no sharp objects and an experienced aquarist to take proper care of it. The tank must be covered with netting or some other barrier to prevent this active swimmer from jumping out. Sharks for both public and private aquariums are not bred in captivity, but are collected in the wild. An aquarist interested in sharks can find reputable dealers of marine specimens through aquatic societies.
Many shark species are slow to recover from overfishing due to long gestation periods and low birth weights. Certain species of smooth-hound sharks in the Northeast Atlantic are more susceptible than previously thought. As scientists learn more about them, conservation efforts can get underway to protect them. Responsible collection and harvesting will ensure that smooth-hound sharks survive in numbers sufficient to maintain the balance of their ecosystems.
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