Carpet Shark – Cephaloscyllium isabella
Carpet sharks are occasionally caught by surfcasters fishing from both sandy and stony beaches. Though more commonly found in inshore coastal waters around the South Island many surfcasters might never see one. They are usually caught in shallow water but have been taken on baited lines fished as deep as 250 meters. The New Zealand carpet shark is also found in southern Australia.
Its appearance is somewhat grotesque and generally off-putting to most surfcasters who are usually more inclined to let them go than take one home for dinner. They have a habit of inflating themselves with water when first caught probably as a defence to make themselves appear larger to predators. Inflating themselves with water means that this species is sometimes called a swell shark.
The skin of a carpet shark feels like coarse sandpaper. It is brown and blotchy with the colour fading and becoming more uniform after death.
In its natural environment, the carpet shark is often found resting on the seabed where it’s mottled skin colour blends in perfectly with shells, rocks, and weed to the extent that it is hard to spot unless it moves. The carpet shark typically lives half buried in sand or mud, or shell bottoms, often close to rocks. It is generally quite placid and doesn’t swim about constantly like most other sharks.
Carpet sharks have quite large mouths at the end of their bodies whereas most sharks have their mouths underneath. This implies the carpet shark sucks in its prey rather than biting it. They have numerous small teeth.
According to David H. Graham, the carpet shark lives mostly on five different species of bottom-living crabs and bottom living whalefeed (shrimp). Only cockabullies were found in their stomachs and no pelagic fishes. Again suggesting they are probably ambush predators that lie in wait for their prey on the sea floor.
Most carpet sharks caught by anglers measure around 1 m. According to David H. Graham in a Treasury of New Zealand Fishes, the largest one he had seen measured 8 feet in length.
I have eaten carpet shark many years ago. The flesh being much like that of any other shark. Most anglers, however, release any carpet sharks they catch back into the sea.
The eyes of the species are long slits that appear much like those of a cat, hence cat shark is also used for this species.