Leopard Shark Fact File
Credit: Mfield, Matthew Field, www.photography.mattfield.com, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Wild 25 years
Captive 30 years
Spot this Shark!
The name of the leopard shark is taken from the pattern of spots and stripes found across their body. Their name often causes confusion with the zebra shark which is also referred to as the leopard shark.
These animals are carnivores which hunt for fish and crabs. Despite this they pose no danger to humans.
Females carry their eggs inside their body where they will hatch. She then gives birth to the live young.
This species is hunted by recreational fishers and in commercial fishery operations. They are also taken alive for the aquarium trade in increasingly large numbers.
Read on to learn more about these fascinating fish.
What does the Leopard Shark look like?
The leopard shark takes its name from the pattern of black spots which pattern their body and fins. These rest on top of a light brown background. On the underside this fades to a whitish color.
Their jaw is powerful and contain small teeth which can be used to capture prey.
They reach lengths of up to 2.1m (7ft) long with weights ranging up to 32kg (71lbs).
Females are slightly larger than males.
Males can also be distinguished through the presence of claspers on the underside of the body which are used during mating.
As a shark their body is formed from cartilage (the same substance as human ears) instead of bone making them more flexible.
How does the Leopard Shark survive in its habitat?
The spotted patterning of the leopard shark is a form of camouflage. It allows them to blend in with the dappled light which penetrates the surface in their kelp forest habitat.
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What does the Leopard Shark eat?
The leopard shark is a carnivore. They will swim along the seafloor picking up crabs, fish eggs, clams and other small prey items.
Younger individuals focus more on crabs while adults primarily feed on fish.
Learn more about the Leopard Shark in this video from Marine Science Institute on YouTube
Where do you find the Leopard Shark?
Leopard sharks are found along the western coast of North America. Here they live along the the coastline of Mexico and the United States.
Where can the Leopard Shark survive?
These sharks live in nearshore waterways and may make use of estuaries and bays. They will be found near rocky areas and kelp forests.
Credit: Brian Gratwicke, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
How does the Leopard Shark produce its young?
During the breeding season the females will mate with multiple partners and each litter may have several fathers for the various pups.
Young leopard sharks develop inside an egg but this entire process takes place within their mother. After hatching they are born live.
It takes 10 to 12 months of gestation inside their mother for the young to hatch.
Each clutch may include up to 33 pups.
Young born through this method have a higher chance of survival but fewer young are produced in each clutch.
Sexual maturity is reached at 10 years old.
What does the Leopard Shark do during its day?
These fish are active by both day and night when they will feed. There does appear to be an increase in activity at night.
They are highly nomadic. While travelling through the ocean they will travel over large distances without ever crossing the same path.
Large aggregations of this species may form which will associate with other species such as the smoothhound shark.
Leopard sharks are commonly found near the bottom of the ocean. This is due to the lack of a swim bladder which aids buoyancy in fish.
Credit: Jennifer Peyton from San Francisco, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Predators and Threats
What stops the Leopard Shark from surviving and thriving?
Leopard sharks have not been blamed for any fatalities in humans and few incidents of aggression towards humans have been reported.
The flesh of the leopard shark contains high levels of mercury making them unsuitable for human consumption.
A formal population estimate of the leopard shark has not been established. It is believed that their population is made up of seven subpopulations across their range.
Leopard sharks are targeted by fishers across much of their range. Most are taken by recreational fishers and this is not in large enough numbers to affect their population.
Larger numbers are also taken live for the aquarium trade and this appears to be the largest threat to their survival.
Larger numbers may be taken as by-catch in fisheries.
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Fossil records of this species have been found which date back to over 1 million years ago.
Their genus name is Triakis. This is taken from a Greek word meaning three-pointed and refers to the shape of their teeth.
They may also be known as the cat shark.
Another species of shark known as the zebra shark is also known as the leopard shark within parts of their range leading to confusion with this species.
Credit: Tewy, CC BY-SA 3.0 <http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/>, via Wikimedia Commons
Carlisle, A.B., Smith, S.E., Launer, A.L. & White, C.F. 2015. Triakis semifasciata. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2015: e.T39363A80672743. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2015-4.RLTS.T39363A80672743.en. Accessed on 04 March 2022.
Animals.sandiegozoo.org. 2022. Leopard Shark | San Diego Zoo Animals & Plants. [online] Available at: <https://animals.sandiegozoo.org/animals/leopard-shark> [Accessed 4 March 2022].
Seaworld.org. 2022. Leopard Shark Facts and Information | SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment. [online] Available at: <https://seaworld.org/animals/facts/cartilaginous-fish/leopard-shark/> [Accessed 4 March 2022].
Marine Bio. 2022. Leopard Shark. [online] Available at: <https://www.marinebio.org/species/leopard-sharks/triakis-semifasciata/> [Accessed 4 March 2022].
Aquarium.org. 2022. Leopard Shark. [online] Available at: <https://aquarium.org/animals/leopard-shark/> [Accessed 3 March 2022].
Montereybayaquarium.org. 2022. [online] Available at: <https://www.montereybayaquarium.org/animals/animals-a-to-z/leopard-shark> [Accessed 4 March 2022].
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