Blue Zoo: Epaulette Shark
Featuring one amazing marine animal per week.
The epaulette shark (Hemiscyllium ocellatum) is a unique organism that spends its time on the seafloor in shallow reefs around Indonesia and northern Australia.
Among the most charming of all shark species, this endearing creature goes by several names. It is known as the walking shark because it uses its pectoral fins to crawl along the bottom (watch it walk in the video below!). In West Papua, where the shark is endemic, locals call it the kalabia. Sometimes it is also called the blind shark or bamboo shark.
The harmless epaulette shark is long and slender. Far from fearsome, it rarely grows larger than a meter long (3 ft), and feeds on small invertebrates. It tends to be nocturnal, and does most of its hunting in tidal pools on reef flats. Because these habitats are sometimes low on oxygen, these sharks are uniquely tolerant of such conditions. Its coloration is a further adaptation, helping to camouflage it in this environment. It also has a large eye spot that may help to deceive predators.
The epaulette shark is not very desirable as a food species, and although it is often kept in captivity, it is easy to breed and so is rarely captured from the wild. The main threat facing these sharks is habitat destruction, especially around New Guinea. It is rated as a species of least concern by the IUCN.
Photo by Richard Ling via Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons License.
There are several other related sharks in the Hemiscyllium genus, together known as longtail carpet sharks that are native to the New Guinea island region. These include the Papuan epaulette shark, the hooded carpet shark, and Henry’s epaulette shark. Scientists know that H. ocellatum lays eggs (which is known as oviviparity) and the other species probably do too; however, these species all remain very mysterious. Little is known about their life histories or reproductive behaviors. There is much left to discover about these charming little sharks!
Photo by Strobilomyces via Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons License.