Sci: Mustelus antarcticus and Galeohinus galeus

Common Names: The gummy shark or "gummy" (M. antarcticus) is often confused with the similar-looking school shark (G. galeus). Both belong to the family Triakidae. Other names for the school shark include tope and snapper shark, and the flesh of both species is usually marketed as "flake", particularly in southern states. The gummy shark is almost identical to the smooth hound found in British and European waters.

Description: The gummy shark is a long, relatively lightly-built shark. The second dorsal fin is almost as large as the first, and both are slightly rounded at the top. There is a small tentacle or whisker adjacent to each nostril. The gummy shark's back is dusky grey to greenish-grey or greenish-brown, fading to white or cream on the belly. The back and upper flanks are sprinkled with small, light-coloured spots. The school shark or tope is more streamlined. The first dorsal fin is considerably larger than the second and the snout is more pointed, giving it a whaler-like appearance. There are no obvious tentacles or whiskers around the nostrils. The school shark's back is grey to bronze, fading gradually to white or cream on the belly, and it has no obvious light spots. The most conclusive way of distinguishing these two edible sharks is by examining their teeth. The gummy has flat, grinding molars arranged like the cobbles in a footpath, while the "schoolie" has small, sharp, cutting teeth.

Size: The gummy shark grows to a maximum of about 1.7 m in length and weights approaching 30 kg, although it is more common at half that size. The school shark or tope is larger, occasionally attaining 1.8 m in length and weights of 30 to 35 kg.

Distribution: Gummy sharks are found in the waters of central and southern New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia and around the West Australian coast to about Geraldton or Shark Bay. They prefer deeper, offshore waters, but will range along beaches and rocky foreshores and occasionally enter large, deep estuaries, harbours and bays. School sharks range through our temperate and cool to cold waters, from southern Queensland to about Geraldton in Western Australia. They are also found in Tasmania and New Zealand. Their habitat preferences are similar to those of the gummy shark.

Fishing Techniques: Both these sharks, particularly the gummy, are eagerly targeted by southern anglers. The majority are taken by surf-casting fisherman along ocean beaches and around the mouth of larger estuaries and bays, but many are also landed by boat fisherman working offshore grounds, bays and harbour waters. Besides those caught deliberately, many are taken, or at least hooked, by anglers targeting snapper, flathead and salmon. Best baits for both types of shark are reasonably large slabs of fresh fish or strip, whole pilchards or garfish, squid or octopi. In their larger sizes both these sharks are strong and active fighters, and sturdy tackle is needed to cope with them. A wire trace or leader is best when fishing for school sharks.

Eating Qualities: Both these small sharks are highly-rated table fish, especially in southern states, where "flake" is the ubiquitous accompaniment to fried potato chips. Both species have firm, white meat and no true bones. The flesh is particularly well-suited to frying in batter. To improve the flavour of the cooked flesh, both tope and gummy sharks should be killed and bled by severing the head and tail immediately after capture.

By Steve Starling