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Easily distinguished by bold pattern of large dark saddles extending from the
head along the back. Centre of saddles lighter in adults. Saddles are separated
by smaller dark spots on a cream to grey/brown background. Overall body shape is
elogated and slender. Second dorsal proportionately large. Pectoral fins
falcate. Snout broadly rounded with widely spaced nasal flaps that do not reach
Albino Leopard sharks have rare but have been recorded.
Maximum recorded size 180cm. Size at birth 20cm.
Prefers shallow sand flats and
confined muddy bays. Likes turbid water. Occasionally in or near kelp beds on
Confined to the temperate and tropical coastline between
and Southern Baja including the Sea of Cortez. Often seen in large aggregations
close to shore. Usually intertidal to 4m but has been recorded as deep as 91m.
Hunts over sand in search of
burrowing invertebrates such as worms but will feed opportunistically on a wide
variety of animals including crustaceans, squid, bony fishes, and small sharks
and rays (mainly other smoothhounds, bat rays and guitarfishes).
The Leopard Shark sometimes forms nomadic schools with other species especially
the Grey Smoothhound (Mustelus californicus) and Spiny Dogfish (Squalus
acanthias). Usually maintains a small home range but can roam up to 150km. A
strong swimming shark that can occasionally be seen resting among rocks.
with no yolk sac placenta.
Recorded litter size 4-29. Gestation period approx. 12 months.
Slow growing and late to mature.
The Marine Room,
Conservation Status: The IUCN lists the leopard shark as 'Least Concern'.
From the IUCN website: "Leopard sharks are taken primarily by recreational
anglers. The species has also been captured for the cold-water aquarium trade
and is highly prized for its distinctive markings and hardiness. Because of its
rather limited geographical range and evidence of only limited exchange among
regional stocks, resident stocks near large population centres may be
particularly vulnerable to heavy localized fishing pressure. However, this
species does not appear to be at risk judging by the combined landings in
relation to previously calculated estimates of fishing mortality (mean F=0.084)
and exploitation rates (mean E=0.075). Additionally, current conservation and
regulatory actions enacted by the State of California appear to have reduced
these rates and have contributed significantly toward protecting this species
from excessive catches in recent years. Little is known of the biology and full
extent of harvest of this species in Mexican waters, but it is estimated that
less than one percent of the Pacific Ocean catch off Baja California under the
category of "small sharks" is comprised of this species. As a result of the
success of the conservation measures taken in the U.S. and the lack of a
significant fishery in Mexican waters, this species has been classified as Least
Concern. However, because it is endemic to this region, is subjected to fishing/bycatch
pressures (albeit regulated in the U.S.), and has been shown to be susceptible
to overfishing due to its life history characteristics (slow growing, long
lived, late maturing, low productivity), it is important to continue managing
and monitoring the species to ensure the health of the population."
Citation: Carlisle, A. & Smith, S.E. 2009. Triakis semifasciata.
In: IUCN 2012. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2012.2.
Although the Leopard Shark can be found with other smoothhound sharks it's
striking pattern makes misidentification unlikely.
Reaction to divers:
Skittish. Best approached on snorkel but difficult to get close to. Apparently
easier to approach at night. Due to their small size Leopard Sharks do not pose
a threat to divers or snorkellers. But a Leopard Shark was responsible for an
attack on an Aquarium Diver (Dean Fessler of the Shark Research Institute) while
he was feeding the sharks in front of a large group of spectators. The way Dean
explains it, the offending Leopard Shark accidentally bit his cheek while
attempting to take the bait which was floating free in front of Deans face. A
large flap of skin was torn away resulting in a huge cloud of blood that
terrified the crowd and put an abrupt end to the "most sharks aren't really
dangerous" speech that he was conducting.
It is usually possible to find Leopard Sharks throughout the summer and early
fall directly in front of the Marine Room Restaurant in La Jolla.
Why the sharks like this spot isn't clear but it may simply be that they patrol
the entire coastline and this is where the snorkellers enter the water to see
A good way to get closer to the sharks is to carry some fish but note that La
Jolla is a protected area and feeding or harassing the marine life within the
park is illegal.
Other diving locations submitted by
Ron Clough (Organizer of the California Shark and Ray Count) suggests that any
places where warmer than normal water flows into the sea in California (e.g. from power
plants) Leopard Sharks are likely to be seen.
Sharks, Rays, and Chimaeras of
California. David A. Ebert. U of C Press.
Sharks of the World. Leonard
and Rays - Elasmobranch Guide of the World. Ralf M. Hennemann. IKAN.