Leopard Sharks Up Close and Personal
Contributed by Wandy Hochgrebe
The leopard shark (Stegostoma fasciatum) belongs to the Order of
carpet sharks (Orectolobiformes) and is easily recognisable. Just like
other Orectolobiformes, such as the wobbegong and the whale shark, the
leopard shark has a flat belly, an elongated upper tail fin, and the
mouth is in front of its small eyes. The brown leopard-like spots on its
back and sides make it hard to confuse this shark with any other shark
species. The Leopard shark is a slow swimmer, has 5 gill slits (slit 4
and 5 overlap) and strong ridges along the upper sides. This species
normally grows to 2.4 meters in length, but can grow up to 3.5 meters.
This somewhat sluggish shark is not aggressive when approached under
water and is generally considered to be harmless.
The Leopard shark can be found at a depth of 5 to 30 meters and is often seen lying on sandy bottoms. This shark is able to actively pump water over its gills, which means it does not need to swim to be able to breath, unlike some other shark species.
The diet of the leopard shark consists mainly of gastropods (snails and slugs) and bivalve molluscs, but crustaceans and small fish are eaten as well.
The Leopard shark is oviparous. The female lays
large (17 cm in length) dark coloured egg cases that have tufts of
hair-like fibres, which anchor the eggs to the bottom. The young are 20
ľ26 cm when they hatch. The juvenile animals are brown with narrow
yellow to white bars and blotches, hence the other common name for this
shark: zebra shark.
In Australia the Leopard shark is found in coastal waters from the western coast of Western Australia, around the tropical north and south to the central coast of New South Wales.
During the warm summer months
(December/January to May) Leopard sharks can be seen on almost every
dive at Julian Rocks Marine Reserve in Byron Bay. Although this animal
is normally solitary it is known to aggregate in certain areas to mate.
In summer groups of up to seven individuals can be seen around Julian
Rocks. Interestingly most of the leopard sharks that visit Julian Rocks
Experience the Leopard sharks up-close and personal in Byron Bay each summer. They are fantastic animals to encounter on a dive.
NOTE: Stegostoma fasciatum should not be confused
with Triakis semifasciata, whose common name is also leopard shark. This Leopard shark inhabits the coastal waters of Oregon, USA to Baja
California, Mexico .
Article by Wandy & Tim Hochgrebe