Spiny dogfish have had a long history of interactions with humans. These sharks, once reviled as pests, became valued food fish (particularly in Europe), were declared overfished, rebounded much more quickly than expected, and are now targeted by a certified sustainable fishery on the U.S. east coast. All of this has not happened without controversy, with difficulties obtaining international dogfish management and promoting the fishery stateside.
What gets lost in all this talk of making the dogfish fishery work is the fact that spiny dogfish are incredibly interesting animals. While they’ve traditionally been the lab rat of the shark world, used as a general model for elasmobranch biology, dogfish in fact possess a number of unique adaptations that make them not just an “atypical” shark, but a pretty damn strange one. As other shark populations continue to struggle with fishing pressure, the unique traits of the spiny dogfish may allow this species to adapt to the greatest driver of extinction in the history of fish evolution: humans.
In that spirit, I’d like to introduce a new series of posts for this blog with the tongue-in-cheek title “Perfect Little Killing Machines.” This series will cover the evolution, natural history, and ecology of spiny dogfish, showcasing the unusual adaptations that have made these little sharks such successful survivors. Some of the posts will be updated versions of older posts on spiny dogfish biology, while others will be totally new. Through it all, I hope you get an appreciation for the spiny dogfish not just as a fishery, but as an animal.