Kitefin Shark

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Kitefin Shark

Dalatias licha

Last updated: June 30, 2022
Verified by: IMP
Image Credit Alessandro De Maddalena/

Kitefin Shark Scientific Classification

Scientific Name
Dalatias licha

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Kitefin Shark Conservation Status

Kitefin Shark Facts


Kitefin Shark Physical Characteristics

  • Brown
  • Grey
Skin Type
17-18 years
Age of Sexual Maturity
Age of Weaning

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View all of the Kitefin Shark images!

Kitefin sharks are solitary hunters, with their cigar-shaped bodies, they swim well off the bottom.


The kitefin shark (or seal shark) is a squaliform shark that lives sporadically in different locations across the world. This shark is the largest luminous vertebrate in the world. It is fished commercially for its meat, skin, and most importantly, its sizeable oil-filled liver, which is of commercial value to humans. 

5 Kitefin Shark Facts

  • Bioluminescence: The Kitefin shark is the largest luminous vertebrate on record. Three hormones in the shark’s body control its ability to glow in the dark. 
  • Oil-filled liver: the seal shark has a sizable oil-filled liver which it uses to maintain neutral buoyancy in water. Liver oil is the major reason it is commercially valuable to humans.  
  • Aplacental viviparous: the embryo of this shark develops in yolk sacs in the mother’s body. 
  • Solitary:  kitefin sharks are mostly solitary. However, they may occasionally form small groups. 
  • Large litter: The kitefin shark gives birth to 10-14 young in one litter. 

Kitefin Shark Classification and Scientific name

The scientific name of the Kitefin shark is Dalatias licha. The genus name “Dalatias” comes from the Greek word “dalos” or “dalou.” This means “torch.” The Kitefin shark is also known by other names such as seal shark, black shark, and darkie Charlie. 

Kitefin is a Squaliform shark. This order of sharks consists of 7 families and 126 identified species. It is the only species in the Dalatias genus. All members of the family Dalatiidae (where the kitefin shark belongs), alongside other families such as Eptomeridae and Zameus, exhibit some intrinsic bioluminescence. The seal shark is the largest of all the luminous shark species. 

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Kitefin Shark Appearance 

The kitefin shark is a medium-sized fish with a cylindrical body. It has a short, blunt snout with thick lips that feature pleats or fringes. This blunt-faced shark has large eyes, characteristic of deep water fishes. 

The seal shark has lobed fins. The dorsal fins are spineless, originating behind the rear tips of the pectoral fins. They are two in number, with the second dorsal fin being the larger one. They also have a ventral caudal fin which is weak and lobed. Most of the posterior margins of the shark’s fin are translucent. 

The mouth has 16 to 21 rows of sharp teeth on the upper jaw. The upper teeth have a small, spiked shape and curve slightly towards the edge of the shark’s mouth. The lower teeth are larger, numbering 17 to 20, with serrations on them. The bases of the teeth interlock to form a continuous knife-shaped cutting surface. 

Kitefin sharks are typically uniform dark brown or gray. Sometimes, they have faint-black spots on their back. The average length of kitefin sharks is between 1 to 1.4 meters. Similarly, their average weight is about 8kg. The maximum reported length is 1.8m. 

Kitefin sharks are bioluminescent. Scientists believe that the greenish-blue glow of this fish (typically concentrated on their bellies and underside is a type of camouflage that helps the shark blend in with the light from above. 

Most sharks live in deep ocean waters.

Distribution, Population, and Habitat

The Kitefin shark is primarily a bycatch species in most locations. However, they are typically caught with a trawl or hook in certain regions of the world, such as Japan and Portugal, mainly for their flesh and oil. In these regions, overfishing and low reproductive rates contribute to a decline in the population of the seal shark species. This is why the species has been categorized as “Vulnerable” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Experts are certain that the productivity level of this species is low. However, there isn’t sufficient information about their biomass or population trends.

Where to find: Kitefin Shark and How to Catch Them

Kitefin sharks are sparsely distributed in warm and temperate regions all over the world. They are most commonly found in isolated populations in the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific Oceans. This species of shark are naturally solitary and epibenthic, which means they live on or just above the bottom sediments of the ocean. They prefer deepwater habitats, usually about 656.2 ft (200 m) deep. However, they have been found as far out as 5905.5 ft (1800 m) and in shallow depths of about 121.4 ft (37m).  

Predators and Prey

Given the fact that the seal shark isn’t a fast swimmer, it is mostly a scavenger that feeds on small fishes and crustaceans. However, it is also equipped with strong and sharp teeth modified for grabbing and cutting. This means this 3-4ft shark also has what it takes to be a predator. 

What Eats Kitefin Shark

The kitefin shark does not have a lot of natural predators. Humans in some regions of the world fish kitefin sharks for their meat, skin, and liver oil. Due to Human exploitation and the species’ low reproductive rate, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) considers them a vulnerable species.

What Does Kitefin Shark Eat?

Kitefin sharks are not the fastest swimmers. However, they do have strong bites and large teeth. They are powerful predators that typically hunt alone. They can take a wide range of prey, including bony fishes, cartilaginous fishes like sharks and rays, cephalopods, crustaceans, and polychaete worms. Kitefin sharks can bite into sharks that are larger than themselves with their large, powerful teeth. 

Reproduction and Lifespan

These shark species reproduce an aplacental viviparous process. The embryos hatch in the mother’s uterus. They sustain themselves on unfertilized eggs produced by the mother. Adult females have two functional uteruses. Although their uterus is not divided into compartments, they may birth between 10 to 16 young. 

The young seal sharks are born at a length of about 3.5 to 4.5m. Their exact size varies from one geographic location to the other. We do not know the exact gestation period, but some estimates have placed it at up to two years. 

Kitefin Shark In Fishing And Cooking

Although it has no commercial value in the western Atlantic countries, the Kitefin shark has a long history of human exploitation in certain regions of the world. In the Eastern Atlantic region (notably Japan), people eat seal sharks for their meat and also process them into fishmeal. Similarly, liver oil from the species is useful in Portugal, Japan, and South Africa.

They can make the skin of this shark into a type of shagreen which is useful for jewelry and furniture. They also make a special type of polished Spanish leather known as “boroso” from the seal shark’s skin. 

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About the Author

Abdulmumin is a pharmacist and a top-rated freelance writer on Upwork. He can pretty much write on anything that can be researched on the internet. However, he particularly enjoys writing on health, technology and animals. He is inquisitive and currently aspires to become a software engineer. He loves animals, especially horses and would love to have one someday.

Kitefin Shark FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Where are Kitefin sharks Found?

Kitefin sharks are typically found in the warm-temperate and tropical waters of the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific Oceans. They are almost global in their distribution, but they’re mostly found in isolated populations wherever they occur. They’re bottom-dwellers found in depths of up to 600 m.

Why do Kitefin sharks glow?

Scientists believe that the kitefin shark’s ability to glow is an adaptation that it uses to blend in with the bluish light from above, serving as perfect camouflage.


What is unique about the Kitefin shark?

Kitefin sharks are the largest known bioluminescent vertebrate species. Unlike other glowing organisms whose glowing organs are controlled by their nervous systems, the luminescence in kitefin sharks is regulated by hormones.


Are Kitefin sharks dangerous to humans?

The kitefin shark lives in depths too great for it to be dangerous to humans. Encounters are rare, but the shark’s sharp teeth make it potentially dangerous to some extent.

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