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30 April 2011 - Douglass F. Hoese


The subclass Elasmobranchii includes the sharks and rays. Members of this group are distinctive in having five to seven gill openings on each side of the head. The family and order classification used here largely follows Nelson (1994) for sharks and McEachran & Aschliman (2004) for rays. The group includes 13 orders of living sharks and rays as well as four orders known only from fossils. Nelson (2006) separated Echinorhinidae from the order Squaliformes, assigning it to Echinorhiniformes.

Generally two groups are recognised, the sharks (Selachii) and the rays and skates (Batoidea). However, Shirai (1992) proposed, on morphological studies, that batoids were more closely related to sawsharks and angelsharks than to other sharks, similar to conclusions reached by Compagno (1973, 1977). More recently molecular work has supported two separate monophyletic groups of sharks and rays (Douady et al. 2003; Winchell et al. 2004; Human et al. 2006). See Nelson (2006) for a more detailed discussion. We do not here separate the two groups, but only treat the orders in a similar arrangement to Nelson (2006). Vélez-Zuazo & Agnarsson (2011) compared various classifications based on morphology and genetics and suported separation of the sharks and rays. There is not general agreement over the interrelationships of many of the orders and the sequence presented here is an attempt to approximate the greatest consensus. Future studies will undoubtedly alter the classification of the group.

A considerable number of books and other works are available on the systematics and biology of sharks and rays, including: Whitley (1940), Stead (1963), Steel (1986), Compagno (1988, 2001), Pepperell et al. (1993), Last & Stevens (1994, 2009), Coleman (1996), Cox & Francis (1997), Taylor (1997), Aitken (1998), Bright (1999), Hamlett (1999), Perrine (1999), Rotman (1999), Stevens (1999), Allen (2001), Hennemann (2001) and Daley et al. (2002). The recent work by Compagno et al. (2005) summarised the known world species of sharks, and Last & Stevens (2009) summarised information about Australian species.

Many of the species are targeted in fisheries and numbers have declined worldwide. Many of the species are listed as Threatened or Endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Some species are now protected in Australia. Simpfendorfer et al. (2011) summarised many of the issues relating to management of sharks and rays.


General References

Aitken, K. 1998. Sharks and Rays of Australia. Sydney : New Holland (Australia) 96 pp.

Allen, T.B. 2001. Shark Attacks: Their Causes and Avoidance. New York : Lyons Press 293 pp.

Bright, M. 1999. The Private Life of Sharks. London : Robson Books 285 pp.

Coleman, N. 1996. Australia's Sharks & Rays. Frenchs Forest : National 63 pp.

Compagno, L.J.V. 1973. Interrelationships of living elasmobranchs. Journal of the Linnean Society of London, Zoology 53(suppl. 1): 15-61 pls 1-2

Compagno, L.J.V. 1977. Phyletic relationships of living sharks and rays. American Zoologist 17(2): 303-322

Compagno, L.J.V. 1988. Sharks of the Order Carcharhiniformes. Princeton, New Jersey : Princeton University Press 572 pp.

Compagno, L.J.V. 2001. Sharks of the World. An annotated and illustrated catalogue of shark species known to date. Bullhead, mackerel and carpet sharks (Heterodontiformes, Lamniformes and Orectolobiformes). Rome : FAO, FAO Species Catalogue for Fisheries Purposes No. 1 Vol. 2 269 pp.

Compagno, L.J.V., Dando, M. & Fowler, S. 2005. A Field Guide to the Sharks of the World. London : Collins 368 pp.

Cox, G. & Francis, M. 1997. Sharks and Rays of New Zealand. Christchurch : Canterbury University 68 pp.

Daley, R.K., Stevens, J.D., Last, P.R. & Yearsley, G.K. 2002. Field Guide to Australian Sharks & Rays. Hobart : CSIRO Marine Research 84 pp.

Douady, C.J., Dosay, M., Shivji, M.S. & Stanhope, M.J. 2003. Molecular phylogenetic evidence refuting the hypothesis of Batoidea (rays and skates) as derived sharks. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 26(2): 215-221

Hamlett, W.C. (ed.) 1999. Sharks, Skates, and Rays: the Biology of Elasmobranch Fishes. Baltimore & London : John Hopkins University Press 515 pp.

Hennemann, R. 2001. Sharks & Rays: Elasmobranch Guide to the World. Frankfurt : IKAN 304 pp.

Human, B.A., Owen, E.P, Compagno, L.J.V. & Harley, E.H. 2006. Testing morphologically based phylogenetic theories within the cartilaginous fishes with molecular data, with special reference to the catshark family (Chondrichthyes; Scyliorhinidae) and the interrelationships within them. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 39(2): 384-391

Last, P.R. & Stevens, J.D. 1994. Sharks and Rays of Australia. Canberra : CSIRO Australia 513 pp. 84 pls.

Last, P.R. & Stevens, J.D. 2009. Sharks and Rays of Australia. Collingwood : CSIRO Publishing Australia 2, 550 pp.

McEachran, J.D. & Aschliman, N. 2004. Phylogeny of Batoidea. pp. 79-113 in Carrier, J.C., Musick, J.A. & Heithaus, M.R. (eds). Biology of Sharks and their Relatives. Boca Raton, Florida : CRC Press 596 pp.

Nelson, J.S. 1994. Fishes of the World. New York : John Wiley & Sons 600 pp.

Nelson, J.S. 2006. Fishes of the World. Hoboken, New Jersey : John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 601 pp.

Pepperell, J., West, J. & Woon, P. (eds) 1993. Shark Conservation. Proceedings of the International Workshop on the Conservation of Elasmobranchs held at Taronga Zoo, Sydney, Australia. Sydney : Zoological Parks Board of NSW 147 pp.

Perrine, D. 1999. Sharks and Rays of the World. Stillwater : Voyageur Press 132 pp.

Rotman, J.L. 1999. Shark!. New York : Ipso Facto Publishers 226 pp.

Shirai, S. 1992. Squalean Phylogeny. A new framework of "squaloid" sharks and related taxa. Sapporo : Hokkaido University Press 151 pp.

Simpfendorfer, C.A., Heupel, M.R., White, W.T. & Dulvy, N.K. 2011. The importance of research and public opinion to conservation management of sharks and rays: a synthesis. Marine and Freshwater Research 62: 518–527

Stead, D.G. 1963. Sharks and Rays of Australian Seas. Sydney : Angus & Robertson 211 pp. 63 figs.

Steel, R. 1986. Sharks of the World. New York : Facts on File 192 pp.

Stevens, J. (ed.) 1999. Sharks. Sydney : Weldon Owen 240 pp.

Taylor, L.R. (ed.) 1997. Sharks & Rays. San Francisco : Time-Life Books 288 pp.

Vélez-Zuazo, X. & Agnarsson, I. 2011. Shark tales: A molecular species-level phylogeny of sharks (Selachimorpha, Chondrichthyes). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 58: 207-217

Whitley, G.P. 1940. The Fishes of Australia. Part 1. The sharks, rays, devil-fish, and other primitive fishes of Australia and New Zealand. Sydney : Roy. Zool. Soc. N.S.W. 280 pp. 303 figs.

Winchell, C.J., Martin, A.P. & Mallat, J. 2004. Phylogeny of elasmobranchs based on LSU and SSU ribosomal RNA genes. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 31(1): 214-224


History of changes

Note that this list may be incomplete for dates prior to September 2013.
Published As part of group Action Date Action Type Compiler(s)
16-Apr-2012 16-Apr-2012 MODIFIED
10-Mar-2010 MODIFIED