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What is an Elasmobranch?


Basking shark dorsal fin photo

Basking shark (Cetorhinus maximus) dorsal fin

© Dianna Schulte, Blue Ocean Society for Marine Conservation

The term elasmobranch refers to the sharks, rays and skates - cartilaginous fishes. These animals have a skeleton made of cartilage, rather than bone.

These animals are collectively referred to as elasmobranchs because they are in the Class Elasmobranchii (older classification systems refer to these organisms as Class Chondrichthyes, listing Elasmobranchii as a subclass.) According to the World Register of Marine Species (WoRMS), elasmobranch comes from elasmos (Greek for "metal plate") and branchus (Latin for "gill").

Characteristics of Elasmobranchs


  • Skeleton made of cartilage
  • 5-7 gill openings on each side
  • Rigid dorsal fins (and spines if present)
  • Spiracles to aid in breathing
  • Placoid scales (dermal denticles)
  • The upper jaw of elasmobranchs is not fused to their skull.
  • Elasmobranchs have several rows of teeth which are continually replaced.

Species in Class Elasmobranchii, which includes over 1,000 species, include the southern stingray, whale shark, basking shark, and the shortfin mako shark.

Elasmobranchs reproduce sexually with internal fertilization and either bear live young or lay eggs.

Pronunciation: ee-LAZ-mo-brank
Also Known As: Elasmobranchii
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