Blue Zoo: Wobbegong Shark

Featuring one amazing marine animal per week.

Wobbegongs are a group of sharks that can be recognized thanks to their flattened shape, camouflaged coloring, and the weedy appendages on their snouts. Because of this shape and pattern, they are also sometimes referred to as carpet sharks.

Photo by Silke Baron via flickr, Creative Commons License. 

These sharks are masters of disguise, with the perfect color pattern and shape for blending into the coral reef seafloor environment. The fringe on their nose looks exactly like seaweed, perfectly disguising the outline of their head from predators and prey.

A wobbegong can sit motionless without being noticed until unwitting prey comes near. Then it strikes out with its strong jaws and fang-like teeth. They usually eat things like small squid, cuttlefish, or crabs.

Photo by Lakshmi Sawitri via flickr, Creative Commons License. 

When they’re born, wobbegongs are about 20cm (8 inches), and most species of wobbegong reach about 4 feet (1.25 meters) in length when they’re fully grown, although some are bigger. They’re generally harmless to humans, unless they’re provoked. Touching or cornering a wobbegong, or accidentally stepping on one, could cause it to bite!

The tasselled wobbegong (Eucrossorhinus dasypogon) has the most elaborate dermal flaps on its snout. Photo by Jon Hanson via Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons License. 

There are several species of wobbegong and they all belong to the family Orectolobidae. Most of them are found in the south and west of the Pacific Ocean, around Australia and the Coral Triangle. One species, however, can also be found in the north Pacific near Japan.

Wobbegong meat is regularly eaten by humans. Several species of wobbegong are classified as Near Threatened by the IUCN, although the rest are listed as Data Deficient or Least Concern.

A juvenile ornate wobbegong (Orectolobus ornatus). Photo by Richard Ling via Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons License. 

A spotted wobbegong (Orectolobus maculatus). Photo by Sylke Rohrlach via flickr, Creative Commons License. 

Primary source:  Allen, G.R. and Erdmann, M.V. 2012. Reef fishes of the East Indies. Volume I. Tropical Reef Research, Perth, Australia. Page 44.

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